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Jail virus outbreak lessening

JOHNSTOWN — The COVID-19 outbreak at the Fulton County Correctional Facility reported in March and April is “basically” over, according to county Sheriff Richard Giardino.

Giardino said Tuesday that the outbreak for both staff and inmates has greatly subsided.

“Right now, all the inmates have been quarantined or cleared,” the sheriff said.

On April 12, Giardino first confirmed publicly that the county jail at Route 29 and Harrison Street was undergoing a COVID-19 outbreak that hit the facility two weeks ago prior to that time. He said at that time that after an initial couple cases, nine staff members and 38 inmates had eventually tested positive for the potentially deadly coronavirus.

But as of Tuesday, Giardino said that although the reported situation had gotten worse, it is now much better. He said that as of May 1, all the county’s correctional officers were back on duty. He said the final tally was 18 out of 50 correctional officers being infected with COVID-19. He said 65 inmates out of 250 housed and tested during this spring at the “congregate” correctional facility had tested positive for COVID.

No one passed away as a result of the jail outbreak. Giardino said one inmate had to be hospitalized, but has since been discharged.

Giardino said he was “pleased” at the final outcome because the jail had to quell an emergency situation that struck the tight-quartered facility “in a short notice.” He said that once COVID-19 hit the facility, it “spread like wildfire,” although many persons impacted are now recovered or recovering with no new cases.

“Basically, I think we’re pretty clear,” the sheriff said.

Giardino said it helped that the Fulton County Correctional Facility has a medical service it contracts with and within four hours of what was defined as the outbreak period, medical staff took action to isolate and treat the sick. The county Board of Supervisors approved emergency measures to allow the jail to have more nurses and personnel.

The jail usually has about 90 to 100 inmates at any given time, but can be as high as 125, Giardino said.

“I really want to commend the jail staff,” the sheriff said.

He said special thanks is extended to Capt. Keith Ackerknecht, jail administrator, who has “done a good job” through the COVID situation.

COVID vaccines are not mandatory. Some of those affected by COVID at the jail can’t get their vaccinations yet because it is still too close to the time period they contracted the disease.

Currently, Giardino said, only a “low” amount of inmates have received COVID vaccinations. He estimated about 45 percent of the staff have received COVID vaccines, he said.

The origin of the outbreak at the Fulton County Correctional Facility is still unknown. Giardino said most of the COVID cases have been mild to manageable.

Giardino said the outbreak in March and April was a fairly spontaneous situation, as the COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t an issue in 2020.

According to data collected late last year by the Marshall Project and the Associated Press, one in every five state and federal prisoners in the United States had tested positive for COVID-19 — a rate more than four times as high as the general population. In some states, more than half of prisoners have been infected, according to the data.

The reported death rate of inmates (39 deaths per 100,000) was also higher than the national rate (29 deaths per 100,000).

As of April 16, 2021, more than 661,000 incarcerated people and staff have been infected with COVID-19 and at least 2,990 have died, according to The New York Times.

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