The outbreak of COVID-19 at the Cook County Jail is the largest to date as the incarcerated population swells to pre-pandemic levels

THE SMALL VILLAGE – COVID-19 cases at the Cook County Jail have quadrupled in just over a month, with more positive cases among people held in jail than any previous increase since the start of the pandemic.

County data shows that of the people being held in prison, 430 have tested positive. In addition, 453 employees of the Cook County sheriff’s office in the prison have also tested positive, according to the data.

Cases in prison spread quickly despite testing and the availability of vaccines and booster shots to detainees.

The data shows there are 107 positive cases as of December 1. Since then, more than 861 people in the sheriff’s office have tested positive, according to county records. Case numbers fluctuated as detainees entered prison and others left.

No deaths were reported, according to the data.

After the previous peak of 200 coronavirus cases in January 2021, confirmed cases have declined and have remained relatively low as vaccines become more available. At times during the summer there were one or two confirmed cases in prison.

When citywide cases began to grow in November, driven by the Omicron variant, cases within the prison rose sharply. But due to the mass living conditions in the densely populated prison, the infection rate there is much higher than in the city in general.

credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Maximum security at Cook County Jail

Citywide, the infection rate is about 1.9 per 1,000 people, according to the Chicago Department of Public Health. But at the Cook County Jail, the rate is more than 64 infections per 1,000 detainees, according to a coronavirus tracker that Injustice Watch created using county data.

Spokesman Matt Wahlberg said most of the detainees who tested positive for the virus did not contract the disease in prison. Sixty-three percent of the new cases were identified during absorption procedures when every incoming detainee is tested upon arrival. Wahlberg said those who test positive are being medically isolated to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

With cases beginning to spike across the county, the sheriff’s office and prison hospital Cermak Health have “prepared for this and anticipate the spike” by ramping up testing, vaccinations and mitigation protocols, Wahlberg said. Wahlberg said educational videos explaining the benefits of vaccines are streamed daily in the prison, and information on vaccines is posted at every layer of the facility.

About 77 percent of staff and 64 percent of people held in prison have been vaccinated. And 31 percent of detainees received a booster shot.

Wahlberg said 43 percent of detainees who were already incarcerated before testing positive for the virus were identified as breakthrough cases among fully vaccinated people.

The outbreak last year intensified calls to reduce the prison population by releasing bail detainees that a judge decided did not pose a risk to society.

Detainee rights advocates, including civil rights group Loevy & Loevy, the MacArthur Justice Center, Civil Rights Corps, Chicago Appleseed Trust for Justice and Chicago, have said getting people out of overcrowded prisons is the only way to effectively stop the spread of the coronavirus. Community Bond Fund.

These efforts prompted prosecutors, the sheriff’s office, and public defenders to work with the courts to quickly identify detainees who could be released. Over a few weeks in April 2020, the prison population shrank by about 25 percent to 4,000 detainees.

But the data shows that the number of incarcerated people has since ballooned beyond pre-pandemic levels, with 5,760 people incarcerated in the Cook County Jail.

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