County manager pledges support as Sheriff’s Office prepares to expand testing
An additional 79 inmates and six jail staff have tested positive for COVID-19, as the Henrico County Sheriff’s Office prepares to expand testing for the coronavirus at Jail West and Jail East.
In a news conference, Sheriff Alisa A. Gregory provided an update on the COVID-19 outbreak that surfaced July 5, with three inmates at Jail West testing positive after experiencing mild symptoms of the disease.
In subsequent testing last week, an additional 43 inmates at Jail West were confirmed positive.
With additional results received early today, a total of 125 inmates at Jail West now have tested positive for COVID-19. All remain under quarantine, with eight showing only mild symptoms and all others asymptomatic, Gregory said.
In addition, six staff have tested positive for COVID-19 – five at Jail West and one at Jail East, in eastern New Kent County.
“The Sheriff’s Office understands there is a concern throughout our community about the COVID cases in the jail,” said Gregory, who took office in January after winning election in November. “I want to thank the county manager for his support and reiterate that we are doing everything in our power to contain this outbreak.”
A total of 645 inmates and 270 staff have now been tested, with 393 inmates refusing to participate. Results are pending on 28 inmates and 65 staff, Gregory said.
Inmates who have refused testing are being housed separately from inmates who have tested positive as well as from others in the jail’s general population, said Dr. Melissa Viray, deputy director of the Richmond and Henrico Health Districts.
County Manager John A. Vithoulkas pledged Henrico’s support for ongoing, comprehensive testing at both jails, citing lessons learned from an outbreak of COVID-19 in mid-March at Canterbury Rehabilitation & Healthcare Center.
“We were advised at that point you don’t need to test everyone,” he said. “Now, we know we should be testing everyone here, and that is the first thing that we did. … We will continue those tests at least weekly but on an as-needed basis, as well.”
Vithoulkas also credited Gregory for working with judges and the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office to reduce the county’s jail population to about 1,100 inmates – down from nearly 1,700 last year and the lowest level in 15 years. With fewer inmates, the Sheriff’s Office has been able to isolate them in groups to help contain the outbreak.
Asked why inmates may be refusing COVID testing, Gregory said some may be fearful and others may assume they are not infected because they show no symptoms.
“Like in the community, there are some people who are like, ‘I’m OK, why do I get a test?’ but that’s the scary part about this,” she said. “You have a bunch of people who have tested positive but are asymptomatic. Is that what’s happening in our community? That’s why it’s so important for people to wear face coverings – if not for themselves, for others. We’ve got to protect one another.”