Yuma County Jail has implemented proactive and innovative procedures to battle COVID-19 since the pandemic began here last March.
In fact, the Northeast Colorado Department of Health commended the jail staff earlier this fall on their successful approach.
Sheriff Todd Combs credits the staff with doing such a good job.
“I have full faith in Sgt. Wells and his protocols for the jail,” he said in an email. “He has had to get creative at times to keep things running smoothly, but his leadership and quarantine protocols has kept COVID out of the main part of our jail facility. The detention deputies have put forth extra effort in what can only be described as a very unstable time to keep our jail COVID free. They deserve all the credit.”
The Pioneer finally caught up with Sgt. Joe Wells, who is in charge of the jail, earlier this week to discuss what has been taking place there.
He said that when it first hit, it quickly became apparent the jail’s architecture limited isolating inmates, particularly with having only one holding cell.
“We decided we had to take a pre-emptive approach,” Wells said.
The first thing was to assume the pandemic was going to continue for some time, which meant it was only a matter of time before a staffer or inmate came into the jail infected.
That led to figuring out how to contain it.
The staff saw that the average female population was low enough that they could redesignate cells for isolation, allowing for up to six inmates to be isolated from the rest of the facility.
When inmates are brought into the Yuma County Jail, they are asked a series of questions and their temperature is taken. They are put in an isolation cell, and can take a test after a couple of days. If it comes back negative, they are put into the general population. If they do not take the test, they remain in isolation for 14 days.
However, staff still needs to scramble at times.
Wells explained that if the isolation pod is full, and more inmates come in, the inmates that have been in isolation for 10-11 days are moved to the main pod and locked down for the remainder of their isolation.
“It’s worked out really well so far,” Wells said.
The jail also has taken steps to reduce the population, such as one inmate on work-release being moved to house arrest at a local hotel so he is not coming in and out of the jail each day.
Jails across the state also have limited prisoner transports. Wells said inmates in a nearby jail that have a court date in Yuma County will be transported to Wray the day of the court appearance, stay in an isolation cell, then returned to the other jail after their court appearance.
Wells said jail staff wears masks all the time, except for brief periods when they are removed to get a short break. The jail has a surface disinfecting system that is effective for two weeks or more, quickly killing any virus on a surface.
The jail has not been totally COVID-free, however, as a couple of staff members and one inmate have tested positive. It was determined in all cases the individuals contracted it outside of the jail, and it did not spread within the facility.
“So we have yet to have an outbreak in the jail,” Wells said. “Definitely, it’s been stressful. This job always is, but throw this on top of it and it adds even more stress.
“Everyone has managed it well,” he continued. “I can’t wait to have this in our rear-view mirror, but until it is we’ll just keep doing what we’re doing.”
YC commended, but cases starting to rise again
Yuma County has seen a significant decrease in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, and that has not been lost on state leaders.
The Yuma County Commissioners participated in an update call with the Northeast Colorado Health Department and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Monday morning. During the call, the state referred to Yuma County as a “shining star” in the region, and thanked the Yuma County COVID Task Force for its efforts and successful management of COVID, County Administrator Andrea Calhoon reported.
However, the situation is not so bright nearby as the state announced late Tuesday afternoon that Washington, Logan and Morgan counties were among several counties being moved to a more-restrictive Red Level on Friday, November 20. Level Red greatly restricts indoor and outdoor gatherings, and business operations.
As of this past Monday, November 16, the COVID-19 dashboard on the NCHD website, nchd.org/covid-dashboard, showed Yuma with an estimated 45 active cases, a significant drop from 84 on October 28. It had dropped as low as 43 the previous day, November 15.
However, Yuma County cases were creeping back up later this week. As of the November 18 update, the county had picked up 17 new cases since the start of the week, and the Yuma schools kept announcing new cases.
Yuma County had 38 new cases in the 14-day period as of November 18, and three hospitalizations. The test positivity rate continues to drop, to 3.6 percent.
Over a seven-day period, the county had 24 new cases, a 10-case increase over the seven-day period just two days earlier.
There are now seven confirmed cases in Yuma High School as of Thursday, November 19, resulting in at least 77 students and a few staff members being put on quarantine, but everyone else remains in in-person schooling.
Yuma County remains at Level Yellow on the CDPHE’s COVID-19 dial, while Kit Carson, Sedgwick and Phillips counties are at the stricter Level Orange. Washington, Logan and Morgan are at Level Orange, but as mentioned above will be at Red as of Friday.
As for the two-week cumulative incidence rate, Yuma County was one of just six counties statewide that were orange, with the vast majority in red — meaning more than 350 cases per 100,000 people, which for a county of, say, 10,000 people actually would be 35 cases. Five remote counties were green, the lowest level for the two-week incidence rate.
As for the NCHD dashboard, Washington County is now showing a total of four deaths, as of the November 18 update, and had four hospitalizations over the past 14 days, a drop from a high of eight. It had 49 new cases in two weeks, and a test positivity of 17.8 percent. Otis students in grades 7-12 went to remote learning on November 18 due to a shortage of staff members for various reasons. The school district, reported no active COVID cases.
Morgan County has jumped to 18 hospitalizations, with 360 new cases over 14 days, and a test positivity of 20.4 percent.
Logan County showed an increase in hospitalizations to 17, with 385 new cases over 14 days and a test positivity of 9.8 percent. The county is now up to four deaths.
Sedgwick County has had 30 new cases since November 1, and 25 over the 14-day period. The test positivity was at 10.4 percent, but there were no hospitalizations.
Phillips County has had 61 new cases since November 1, going from 71 to 132. There were no hospitalizations, but the county had its first death. Test positivity was at 6.7 percent.
As of the November 18 update, the NCHD’s six-county region had 21 confirmed COVID-19 hospitalizations, and three suspected to be COVID related. There were still 11 adult critical care ventilators and seven ICU beds available throughout the region.