Jail tests indicate hidden COVID-19 problem

  • Hampshire County Jail and House of Correction, Wednesday, Mar. 25, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Sheriff Patrick Cahillane talks about measures to reduce exposure to the new coronavirus at the Hampshire County Jail and House of Correction on Thursday, March 12, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 4/21/2020 6:33:10 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Tests in recent days on almost two dozen inmates with no signs of illness at the Hampshire County Jail and House of Correction have come back positive for COVID-19 in eight cases.

“That’s almost 35 percent positive in a group of inmates with no symptoms, who have been practicing physical distancing for several weeks, have been supplied with protective masks and have been quarantined for the past 10 days,” Sheriff Patrick J. Cahillane said.

Cahillane said Tuesday that 20 inmates and four staff members at the jail have now tested positive for COVID-19.

On April 16, the jail partnered with Cooley Dickinson Hospital to test 23 asymptomatic inmates who had been living in an area where 12 incarcerated individuals had previously tested positive for the coronavirus, Cahillane said in a statement.

Results from those tests were received by the jail on the evening of April 17 and eight tested positive for the coronavirus while 15 tested negative.

Those asymptomatic inmates who tested positive for COVID-19 have been moved to a separate unit where they can be closely monitored as of April 18, according to the sheriff.

“We took this extra step to help identify the asymptomatic individuals in our population who are carrying the virus, to learn how easily this virus can spread, and to help people in the community understand the importance of following the guidelines set down by the state Department of Public Health, as well as local community ordinances,” Cahillane continued later in the statement. “To me, this testing makes it clear that we do not know how many people in our community are infected.”

The sheriff is now urging local legislators to file legislation calling for mandatory testing for all citizens in Massachusetts to help stop the spread of the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus.

The sheriff also said he received reports from unspecified local police departments that two additional former inmates who have been released in the past two weeks have been found dead. Both were described as “unattended deaths,” which Cahillane noted is a common euphemism for a drug overdose. The phrase can also refer to those who died from sudden medical events as well as suicides.

Cahillane had previously reported that a former inmate released on April 2 by the courts had also been found dead on April 8; that former inmate’s death had also been described as an “unattended death,” he said.

“My heart goes out to the friends and family of these men and I wish them all well during this time of pain and uncertainty,” Cahillane said. “As always, thank you to all our essential frontline workers.”

Hampden County Sheriff’s Department

At the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department in Ludlow, as of Tuesday morning, there are zero cases of COVID-19 among the inmate population, according to Robert Rizzuto, spokesman for Hampden County Sheriff Nicholas Cocchi.

Six staff members, however, have tested positive for the coronavirus and are currently at home recovering, Rizzuto said. A total of five staff members had previously tested positive for COVID-19 but have since recovered, are now healthy and have returned to work, he said.

Michael Connors can be reached at mconnors@gazettenet.com.
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