Island County jail slammed with first COVID outbreak

Three cell blocks are in quarantine and about a third of the jail staff are out with COVID.

By Jessie Stensland / Whidbey News-Times

COUPEVILLE — The Island County jail had its first COVID-19 outbreak since the pandemic began.

Sheriff Rick Felici said three cell blocks are in quarantine and eight corrections deputies — about a third of the jail staff — are out with COVID. Jail Chief Jose Briones is among those home sick.

“The biggest issue is the effect on our staffing,” Felici said. “We were pretty thinly staffed to begin with.”

Felici said six inmates tested positive for COVID, but the jail staff had to assume that inmates housed in the same block would likely be infected. None of the inmates have symptoms beyond what is normally associated with a cold or flu.

The sick staff members also had mild symptoms except for one person who became “quite sick,” Felici said.

No jail inmates were able to appear in court via video Tuesday for the weekly “adult criminal calendar” due to the outbreak.

The sheriff enacted a series of restrictions aimed at stopping the spread of the virus and limiting the number of new intakes in the jail. Many of the rules were also enacted earlier in the pandemic.

Under the guidelines, staff provides food and medicine to the inmates through “cuff ports” on living unit doors. Inmates are only allowed out of the living units for required court appearances or medical appointments. Visitors are restricted and attorney visits are only allowed in a room with a glass separator.

On Jan. 7, Island County Superior Court judges suspended trials until Feb. 8.

Felici said the jail was able to avoid outbreaks until now through a robust screening process during booking, which included temperature readings and antigen testing, as well as safety protocols throughout the facility.

The number of COVID cases has spiked since the emergence of the omicron variant. The total number of COVID cases in Island County since the beginning of the pandemic surpassed 5,000 during the first week of January.

Since then, more than 1,700 new cases have been counted, according to state numbers. The number of cases could be much more because many home tests result aren’t reported.

This story originally appeared in the Whidbey News-Times, a sister publication to The Herald.

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