BOONE — After operating for over a year without any COVID-19 cases, more than 35 staff and inmates at the Watauga County Detention Center have tested positive for COVID-19 as of May 6, according to AppHealthCare.
The last positive result came on May 3, according to AppHealthCare's May 7 situation update. Major Kelly Redmon of the Watauga County Sheriff's Office said there has been 38 total cases among 31 inmates and seven staff members.
"The Watauga County Detention Center has not been accepting arrestees since we discovered a COVID outbreak," Redmon said. "All arrestees are transported and held in other jail facilities until the outbreak is deemed over."
The first positive case was identified on April 19. AppHealthCare is working with the detention center and Watauga County Sheriff’s Office to provide public health guidance and recommendations to prevent and limit further spread of COVID-19.
Redmon said there were 61 inmates when the outbreak began and there are currently 44 inmates in the detention center. Redmon said one detention center staff member and eight inmates are still in isolation as of May 12.
Family members of inmates in the detention center are not notified when a person tests positive for COVID-19, according to Redmon.
When a resident of the detention center tests positive, AppHealthCare spokesperson Melissa Bracey said the detention center medical team monitors symptoms and provides care or care coordination as needed according to their usual medical protocols.
“Our COVID-19 Response team, including nurses, are in frequent communication with their medical team to review case information,” Bracey said. “When a staff person tests positive, our COVID-19 response team performs direct outreach to conduct a case investigation and to provide guidance regarding isolation at home and absence from work until they reach the end of their infectious period per CDC guidelines.”
When a staff person tests positive for COVID-19, Redmon said the employee quarantines at home and the AppHealthCare COVID-19 response team performs direct outreach to conduct a case investigation and to provide guidance regarding isolation at home and absence from work until they reach the end of their infectious period per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
Because the detention center is a congregate living facility and people are in close quarters with each other, Bracey said the virus has a greater opportunity to spread.
Bracey also added that all of the cases so far have been mild and no one has been hospitalized.
“We are appreciative of the work of Sheriff (Len) Hagaman, Major (Kelly) Redmon, and all of the Watauga County Detention Center staff involved in our ongoing collective response efforts,” said Jennifer Greene, AppHealthCare health director. “They have been working closely with us over the past year to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the facility and the community. I am grateful for their continued diligence and partnership with us amidst a very challenging time.”
Redmon said the sheriff's office has partnered with AppHealthCare since early April to offer COVID-19 vaccines to all inmates who wanted one.
To help prevent spread of COVID-19 in the detention center, Redmon said all detention center staff wear masks and participate in temperature checks before shifts. Any detention officer with any sort of symptoms are instructed to remain at home and not come to work.
Redmon said officers who bring someone to booking is required to wear a mask and a mask is also provided to the arrestee if they do not already have one. Their temperature is also checked along with a medical screening.
"AppHealthCare is testing everyone — inmates and jail staff — onsite at the jail for COVID-19 weekly since the first case was discovered," Redmon said.
Redmon said that isolating inmates who have tested positive has been difficult due to the construction of the detention center. He said that positive inmates are segregated together when possible, and all other inmates have been instructed to socially distance.
Cases among detention center staff are included in the AppHealthCare COVID-19 dashboard if they are residents of Alleghany, Ashe or Watauga counties. Active cases for residents of the detention center are included in the dashboard under Watauga County data.