ZANESVILLE — It’s been 18 months since the pandemic changed the way society functions, and in the places where those removed from society go, protocols have only intensified during that time.
Jails across the country have had to take extra precaution to prevent widespread cases of COVID-19 throughout their facilities.
Locally, it’s been a matter of luck taking control of the virus.
Despite having similar intake processes, the Muskingum County Jail and Zanesville City Jail have had polarized experiences with COVID-19.
While the city has only experienced one case of the virus, the county has quarantined many. Both facilities have implemented similar screening questions as the inmate is booked.
“We’ve had cases with some officers getting COVID and some of our employees getting sick, but we’ve been able to keep it out of our jail. It’s been good. We’ve been lucky,” Zanesville Police Chief Tony Coury said.
He credited some of that luck to the intake screening process.
In addition to typical medical-related questions regarding illness, the questionnaires now include sections geared toward COVID-19 symptoms and exposure.
“Even if they just have the flu, we don’t want to bring somebody into the jail that has a high fever and may be symptomatic of the flu,” Muskingum County Jail Administrator Captain David Suciu said.
Before entering general population, new inmates who seem symptomatic are placed on a medical hold for 24 hours in the city. In that timeframe, they are evaluated by a nurse to ensure they are not sick.
Oftentimes, it’s difficult to distinguish illness from drug withdrawal.
In the county, inmates are not placed on hold for any particular amount of time, but do receive an initial screening that includes temperature checks as does the city.
If further medical attention is needed, inmates can request an appointment that is typically fulfilled within 24 hours. The county jail is staffed eight hours a day for five days of the week and four hours on Saturday and Sunday.
To limit contact with people outside the jail walls and possible exposure, both facilities have closed their doors to the public.
Visitation at the county jail is now done virtually from remote locations instead of in the lobby, and the work-release program has been put on hold.
Should inmates leave the jail for medical appointments or court hearings, they are required to wear masks.
Coury explained inmates at his jail must shower and change their clothes before returning to general population.
Inside the facilities, masks are not required for inmates, but staff and any visitors, such as attorneys, must wear them.
Suciu explained the county takes it a step further by logging staff and visitors’ symptoms, possible exposures and their temperatures as they enter the jail.
“We’re going to keep monitoring our inmates and try to keep everybody safe. We’ve had people that have showed up for jail and they looked sick and we’ve turned them away,” Coury said.
The city is in a unique position in which people charged with non-violent misdemeanor crimes have the option to schedule their jail sentences by preference.
“We’re more fortunate than Muskingum County because the people that we’re dealing with primarily are people with misdemeanor crimes, and we can reschedule them to come back at a later time,” Coury said.
In the county, the courts schedule when a person with a misdemeanor reports to jail.
“If they show us they’ve got a positive test, we can almost always get that rescheduled,” Suciu said.
For inmates facing felony charges, they are placed in isolation.
When someone in general population tests positive for COVID-19, it’s more challenging to keep the inmates separated from one another since they live in close quarters.
“We treat the entire unit as if they have COVID because they’re within close proximity of each other, they’re all sharing the same shower, commode,” Suciu said. “We don’t have single rooms here for people. You’re not in a hotel.”
In the past month, cases spike drastically in the county jail.
“We’ve probably had more quarantined recently than we ever had,” Suciu said.
However, he said no one has become severely sick or required hospitalization to date.
As of Friday, only one inmate and one staff member have tested positive for the virus.
The unit where that inmate is house is now in quarantine.
No active cases have been recorded in the city.