The challenges of containing the spread of COVID-19 in jail for both inmates and staff


Currently there are five cases of Minnehaha County Jail inmates with COVID-19, but there have been as many as six with the virus.

“Once you add COVID-19 into the mix, those folks are still coming and going from jail and we still have very little control over whether or not they’re coming,” Minnehaha County Sheriff Chief Deputy, Jeff Gromer, said.

Police officers screen people for COVID-19 before bringing them to jail. Those newly admitted are kept isolated in groups.

“Once they get moved to housing, we move them to a particular housing unit that’s been designated for new arrivals. We try to keep them in there for 14 days until we can determine they’re not going to have symptoms, or they do develop symptoms and obviously we are going to have to move them somewhere else,” Gromer said.

Even with those measures, there are new cases.

“It’s one of those things that makes it so confusing and difficult, is that you’ll have a housing unit that has been fairly well isolated and all of a sudden, somebody will crop up with symptoms and it’s like, seriously, where did that come from?” Gromer said.

Despite wearing PPE, eight of the jail staff have also tested positive. Some have since recovered.

“Staff has to come and go every day. Staff has the same exposure as everyone else, every day,” Gromer said.

Jail staff wearing personal protective equipment. Photo courtesy of the Minnehaha County Jail

The jail is not on lockdown, but the time that inmates are out of their cells has been reduced.

“Once one group goes out and they shower and make phone calls and that kind of thing, and go back into their cell—they have to clean and sanitize that before they let the next group out. It’s just a lot of work and it eats up a lot of the time of the day; which then is less time we can allow inmates to be out in that day area,” Gromer said.

And that can lead to more unrest behind bars.

“The jail environment is stressful under normal circumstances. It’s more stressful for everybody involved now.”

Jeff Gromer, Minnehaha County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy

Gromer says the new Minnehaha County jail, which is set to open in July, will help ease a little of that stress with additional space.

The Minnehaha County Jail had to hospitalize one inmate with COVID-19 symptoms. He was released on a PR bond before being admitted to the hospital.

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