GREAT FALLS — Sheriff Jesse Slaughter said on Monday that 55 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed at the Cascade County Detention Center.
He said that 53 inmates and two detention center staff tested positive. Slaughter noted that all of the inmate cases are in the "county" side of the jail, and that no state prison inmates who are incarcerated in the Cascade County jail have been affected at this point.
Inmates have responded in a variety of ways to the virus - with many displaying no symptoms, some mild symptoms, and a few with more severe symptoms.
Most of the inmates who tested positive now reside in one specific area of the jail and a handful of the others remaining are isolated in individual cells. The two staff members have been sent home to quarantine. Prior to this announcement, only one case had been confirmed as of last Thursday evening.
On Friday morning, Alluvion Health and the City-County Health Department worked to test all inmates and staff at the Cascade County Sheriff’s Office.
Paul Krogue, a nurse practioner who serves as the medical director for the detention center, said each person who tested positive received appropriate medical assessment: “Each of those patients have been seen, they’ve been assessed by myself and by our outstanding nursing staff to make sure they are medically stable, to make sure they receive the care that they need, and that way we can make sure that... if somebody was to become more symptomatic and require higher level care, we would be able to do so,” he said.
Both Krogue and Slaughter explained that many steps have been taken to prevent an outbreak like this - including limiting access to the facility. "Before we had the outbreak at the facility, we actually upped them, anticipating that...there was another kind of spike. For example, when officers come in [with] their inmates we don’t even allow the law enforcement officers in the facility anymore. The detention officers get them and bring them in,” said Slaughter.
However, the close nature of the already overcrowded detention center created a risk in itself. "Since the start of this we’ve taken a lot of measures to mitigate the risks, but unfortunately with this type of a virus and this type of a setting, there was just no way to mitigate that risk to zero,” Krogue said.
While CCSO staff are working to ensure the safety and health of their inmates, Sheriff Slaughter said they must continue to bring inmates into the jail to ensure the safety of the community.
“We have to maintain public safety, so those people that need to be arrested to maintain public safety will be arrested and will be brought into jail. We just don’t have a choice. That’s a mission we can’t give up on,” Slaughter said.
In order to minimize unnecessary entry into the facility, all civilian visitation has been suspended and attorneys have the option of speaking with their clients using video conferencing tools instead of face-to-face.
Testing will continue to ascertain that inmates with COVID-19 are identified and treated properly. Slaughter said all inmates will be treated for the virus within the facility for the time being.
As of Monday morning, the Montana Response COVID-19 tracking map reported a cumulative total of 217 confirmed cases in Cascade County. Of those, 161 have recovered, and 51 are currently active, and five have died. The City-County Health Department in Great Falls confirmed the fifth death last Tuesday. We do not yet know if any of the positive cases at the jail have been added to the state-reported totals.