Late Wednesday, jail officials confirmed that the 20-year-old man is the first coronavirus-positive inmate out of 1,700 prisoners. The inmate is now being treated at the jail’s infirmary and is in stable condition, Booth said.
Jail officials say four inmates have been tested for the virus: Two had negative results, Wednesday’s disclosure was the first positive, and results are pending for a fourth inmate.
Booth said the inmate complained of being sick earlier this week. At that point, he was placed in isolation. On Wednesday, the jail’s medical team discovered the inmate had a fever. They gave him a coronavirus test and were able to get the results accelerated. By Wednesday evening, the test returned positive. Just before midnight, jail officials began alerting staff and city officials.
Booth said the inmate had not been to court since Jan. 27. Booth also said the inmate’s attorney was notified. The inmate has not been taken to the U.S. attorney’s office since being jailed, Booth said.
Booth said jail officials are trying to determine where and how the inmate came in contact with the virus. A jail spokeswoman said the inmate has been jailed since July 29. Booth declined to identify the charge for which the inmate was arrested.
In the District and across the country, the pandemic has prompted defense attorneys and advocates to push for the release of inmates, particularly those who are nonviolent, elderly or have compromised immune systems.
Booth said the jail has stepped up measures to screen inmates for the virus, including asking questions of new inmates to determine whether they have traveled out of the country or been around anyone who might have had the virus. The jail has also increased its cleaning and disinfecting and has limited visitors.
“We are doing enhanced screenings, asking a series of questions, taking temperatures and seeing if you have any flu-like symptoms,” Booth said. Such measures are also being applied to jail employees and visiting attorneys.
Attorneys are also being encouraged to use the jail’s video visitation arrangement. But Booth said because demand for the video visitation has increased, the wait for the terminals also is longer. “The video systems are being overflooded by family, friends and attorneys,” Booth said.
Both said the jail is providing soap to the inmates, in addition to soap, hand sanitizer and gloves to the jail staffers. “Their safety is our number one priority. We don’t want to put anyone at risk,” he said.
Deputy Mayor Kevin Donahue said the District has made efforts to reduce the jail’s population. D.C. police have been given the option of issuing citations, as opposed to making arrests, depending on the alleged crime. Both federal and local prosecutors have increased the number of cases they have dismissed. And new emergency legislation passed by the D.C. Council allows jail inmates to earn double credits for taking various life classes offered by the jail in an effort to speed up their release. A jail spokeswoman said 20 inmates have been released as a result of the restructuring.
Donahue also said defense attorneys have petitioned judges in D.C. Superior Court for emergency release for their clients based on the pandemic. It is unclear whether those efforts have been successful.
Donahue said the District’s cellblock — an area under the D.C. police headquarters where new arrestees are housed before their initial hearing — has seen a 50 percent reduction in the number of arrestees from a month ago. He said that reduction is due to a reduced number of arrests by police.
The inmate who tested positive for the coronavirus was housed at the jail’s Correctional Treatment Facility, which is located in an adjacent building to the central detention facility, both of which are located in the 1900 block of D Street SE. CTF, as the unit is also nicknamed, is a medium-security facility, a step down in security from the central detention facility. While some male inmates are housed there, CTF is the only unit housing female inmates.
The 36 inmates who have been quarantined were in the Correctional Treatment Facility.