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caption: The King County Jail is shown on Thursday, September 17, 2020, on 5th Avenue in Seattle.
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The King County Jail is shown on Thursday, September 17, 2020, on 5th Avenue in Seattle.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

More than 50 test Covid-positive in King County jails within two weeks

King County’s correctional facilities in Seattle and Kent are reporting a significant Covid-19 outbreak.

There have been 47 confirmed Covid cases among people in the county's custody since March 9, most of them in the past week. Nineteen cases were detected on Monday, March 22 alone.

In addition, eight Seattle staff members have tested positive, bringing the total number of cases to 55. Officials expect to have test results for nearly all of the roughly 1,300 inmates plus staff in the next few days.

Officials said the outbreak has been concentrated in "several different areas" of the King County Jail in Seattle.

According to Noah Haglund, a spokesperson for King County’s Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention, one case was identified through testing at the time of booking. "The others were detected through contact tracing, surveillance testing or after reporting symptoms," Haglund said. None of the cases have involved severe illness or hospitalization at this point.

Nearly all Covid-19 patients have been transferred to a designated housing unit at the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent, where they are cared for in medical isoltation, Haglund said.

“In a very limited number of cases, we have kept Covid-positive individuals at the Seattle jail to keep them in appropriate secure housing.," he said. As of Thursday, one Covid-positive inmate remains in custody in Seattle and isn’t eligible to be moved to Kent.

This marks a larger-than-average Covid-19 outbreak within King County correctional facilities. So far, Public Health Seattle & King County has recorded 16 outbreaks in those facilities, for a total of 237 cases. The average number of cases in these outbreaks has been 15.

Haglund said as of this week, the county is testing all Seattle jail inmates and distributing surgical masks to everyone in custody. Previously, he said, they had been providing cloth masks and limiting surgical masks due to supply issues. Haglund also said they are offering testing to all Seattle jail staff. The county has contracted with an outside vendor to offer that testing.

“Public Health — Seattle & King County is strongly recommending that all employees assigned to [King County Correctional Facility] participate in this Covid-19 testing, which is being offered in separate blocs on Thursday and Friday this week," he said.

Haglund said most inmates are not eligible for the Covid-19 vaccine until the end of March, and Jail Health Services expects to offer a vaccination clinic “with a tentative go-live date starting April 6.” He said jail staff had already vaccinated inmates age 65 and over.