Barnstable County Jail: Plenty of Beds, But Low on Protective Equipment | WCAI

Barnstable County Jail: Plenty of Beds, But Low on Protective Equipment

Mar 23, 2020

Guards and medical staff are taking extra precautions with inmates at the Barnstable County Correctional Facility in Bourne, as the COVID-19 epidemic continues to grow. 

WCAI's Kathryn Eident talked with Sheriff James Cummings about what he's doing to screen inmates and staff in an effort to keep COVID-19 from contaminating the jail.

There are about 230 inmates being held or serving time as of Friday. The majority are men under the age of 30, and there are no COVID-19 cases at the jail at as of this posting.

Eident Tell us, what are things like right now at the jail?

Cummings You know, actually it's it's been pretty quiet, with the courts being closed. We're really getting limited people. And what's happening right now, is if the police departments arrest somebody, the courts are handling the arraignments by video conference with the local police department. And we I think we've had three folks so far that have been held on bail.

Eident Do you have any screening measures in place for folks like that who may come over, who you kind of don't know where they've been?

Cummings Yes. I mean, we asked them all the necessary questions. You know, "have you traveled?"  "Have you come in contact with anybody that has traveled or anyone who might be showing symptoms of the virus?"  When they come here, they certainly checked by a medical department and they're put into a special housing unit that's set aside for new committals. And we'll leave them there for 14 days with medical checking on them daily.

Eident I see. So, they're not necessarily going into the population of folks that were already there before this pandemic--

Cummings No, we're keeping them separated in an effort to make sure that, or to try to do our best, to keep the virus out of the correctional facility.

Eident Did you actually have to get some temporary housing or do you have enough room in the jail building itself to just put folks away from the regular population?

Cummings Yeah, we were able to--because the count is so low, we can hold 588 inmates. We had closed one housing unit and to make the holding unit available, we combined a couple of units. So, not only do we have one pod where we're taking in the new committals, we also have another pod which is empty right now, where we're were going to put any inmate that comes into the showing symptoms or test positive.

Eident Right. No visitors allowed. So, how are the inmates who have been there for a little bit of time doing psychologically with this news?

Cummings You know, so far, so good. We've increased the availability of them being able to make phone calls in. We've also given them some free minutes on the phone calls so that they can stay in contact with their family and loved ones.

Eident No other even behavioral issues with people reacting because of the stress of this?

Cummings Now, so far, so good. You know, the inmates, we've told them what's going on and they have a good idea what's going on on the outside. You know, they understand that we did away with visits not only for them, but we don't want their families to be exposed either.

Eident What about with staff? I assume you've got protective equipment for staff who are interacting with those who just came in and who are separated.

Cummings Yes. You know, although we're limited; we're waiting for deliveries of, you know, mask and gowns and gloves on, we're really short on the amount of that equipment we have. But, you know, the state has told us it's on the way as has the federal government. So, we're hoping that it gets here pretty quick.

Eident Did a staff member test or present with symptoms of COVID-19?

Cummings Yes, we did. He was tested, and at the end of last week in his lab results came back and they came back negative.

Eident  That's good. How psychologically are the staff doing? It's a stressful job anyway to be working in a jail. And then I'm sure that must have been stressful for you and everybody there to know that a staff member was concerned that that they might have these symptoms that are so contagious.

Cummings Yes. You know, but we're always careful because most of the folks we deal with as far as inmates go, you know, when they're on the outside, they're not taking very good care of themselves. So when they come in here, you know, we have a lot of folks that have all sorts of major medical problems. And, you know, some of them are contagious. So, the staff is kind of is used to working with that, although not under this stress. I mean, this is a this is really something else. But, they've they've taken up the task so far and are doing a great job.

Eident If a staff member was to come down or was to test positive for COVID-19, what would that do to your ability to staff the jail?

Cummings You know, the good thing is that most of the staff here are young and healthy. You know, so I hope is that if somebody gets sick, it'll only be for a few days and it won't be very serious. And from what we're hearing, some folks get it and they don't even know they have it. You know, so it's--I guess we won't know exactly what we'll do until we come across that, and which I hope we don't. And, you know, see how seriously it might be affecting the individual that that's created the virus.

Eident Yeah. I mean, the obviously, as you know, the contagion piece of it is what I think has so many people on edge.

Cummings We're constantly cleaning and disinfecting and doing our best to keep it out of here, because I think if it gets inside the jail, because of the close quarters, it is going to be very difficult to keep it under control.

Eident And would that be a point that you would need state help?

Cummings Depending on the circumstance, sure. I mean, you know, we have we have so many positions inside the jail that we have to man. So, if the staff became contaminated and was sick, and we didn't have enough staff, we would certainly have to get some help from somewhere.

Eident Well, Sheriff Cummings, thank you so much for taking a few minutes to chat with us and good luck.

Cummings All right. Thanks very much.

*This transcript was lightly edited for grammar and clarity.