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King County Corrections: ‘We don’t have the ability to do social distancing’

There’s some alarm bells ringing for the King County Corrections Guild as one of their members tested positive for the coronavirus. They say if the virus gets into the jails, it could be catastrophic.

Dennis Folk is the president of the King County Corrections Guild, and joined the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH to discuss how jails are managing.

“We got notified earlier this week that he had tested positive. He had been off for a couple days so he’s at home in quarantine, and so far he’s just the first one that we’re aware of,” Folk said. “My assumption would be that he got it at work. I mean, we have a pretty vulnerable population, and we have people coming in all the time. So it’s concerning to us.”

“Working in a jail, we work in direct contact. We don’t have the ability to do the social distancing. With the inmates and our coworkers, we have to work in a relatively close environment.”

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Since the coronavirus crisis started and we’ve seen these declarations coming from the state, how has life changed for employees at the King County Corrections?

“Well, currently when we come to work, they’re screening us for temperatures and seeing if we have any COVID symptoms; if we do, then the shift commander has the ability to send us home and we’re being directed to seek medical advice.”

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“Most public visit needs have been canceled. My understanding is that online we do a video chatting that’s available to service. … I work the intake area most of the time. If somebody comes in with the coronavirus symptoms, we isolate them. And then after that cell’s been utilized, we’ve got a special solution to spray down the cell and clean it.”

If there is an outbreak among the prison population, what does that mean?

“With inmates living so close proximity of each other, it’s going to spread fast. I’ve been following news stories around the country and prisons and jails from the federal level to the local level are extremely concerned by this,” he said. “King County has taken some steps with our vulnerable population — the 60 older group — they’ve isolated those people down there at the RJC (Regional Justice Center), keeping them separate from the general population. And then we’re taking steps if they come in.”

The issue is that you’re dealing with some prisoners who obviously are in an at-risk demographic, whether it’s pre-existing health conditions or their age. What kind of impact could this potentially have on the general population?

“Our population is around about 1800 to 2000 a day between our two jails … trying to treat that and then you throw the staff into the mix. Our unit is 550 officers and sergeants, so add that to the numbers and then taking it back home to their families,” he said.

Folk believes if it were to occur, it would likely be the result of someone from the intake.

“I think it would be somebody from the public coming in, somebody that’s been arrested coming in. We have officers that conduct pat searches, handle their property, things like that. And that could easily be transmitted to us.”

“We’re asking the questions, if you have any flu-like symptoms, been overseas or been in contact with somebody that has. We’re taking temperatures right at the booking. If they have any of those concerns, a registered nurse comes up and screens them further, and if they believe that the person does have coronavirus or symptoms of it, they’re declined medically so they can’t be booked and sent to a hospital to be checked further before we would accept them.”

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show weekday afternoons from 3-6 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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