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CDC Study Finds Aggressive, Timely Interventions Dramatically Reduced COVID-19 Case at Cook County Jail

Aggressive, comprehensive measures implemented at Cook County Jail caused a dramatic decline in the number of new COVID-19 cases and brought the jail outbreak into containment even as cases in the surrounding community continued to rise, according to a newly released study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We stuck with science from Day One,” Cook County Sheriff Thomas J. Dart said today. “As a result of that, while all around the jail the number of positives were going up on a straight trajectory, we not only bent our curve, we killed off the curve.”

The study, released on July 14, found that the outbreak at the jail was reversed due to the combination of a number of interventions put in place by Cook County Department of Corrections (DOC) staff and staff at Cermak Health Services, a division of Cook County Health, which provides all medical care for detainees.

Those measures include:
• Quarantine and isolation
• Limited movement by detainees and staff
• The massive undertaking to single-cell detainees
• The creation of the off-site isolation and quarantine facility at the former Boot Camp
• Aggressive testing protocols by Cermak Health Services
• Required use of PPE by staff and detainees and increased cleaning and sanitizing regimens

“Effective response to the COVID-19 outbreak at CCJ demonstrates the need for dynamic and aggressive application of intervention strategies, but also shows how timely response can reduce case counts and prevent morbidity and mortality in correctional or detention facilities,” the study noted.

It added that “[expanding] CCJ’s footprint to facilitate physical distancing, limiting movement, and implementing expanded testing were complex and resource-intensive interventions, but effectively slowed spread relative to the surrounding community even as cases there surged. Implementing expanded diagnostic testing at key points, such as intake, helped limit new introductions of the virus.”

While the study examined interventions at the jail from March 1 to April 30, the positivity rate continues to drop even as the jail population has increased.

Currently, just 11 of the nearly 5,000 detainees in custody at the jail are positive for the virus, and the positivity rate is below 1%.

Since May 15, 80% of the new cases have come from newly arriving detainees who were identified as positive at intake, rather than from those who were already in custody.

“We are now providing symptomatic and asymptomatic testing as well as conducting significant surveillance testing. Every new detainee is tested upon arrival then placed in isolation housing for 14 days and then tested again before being placed in general population,” said Dr. Connie Mennella,
Chair of Correctional Health for Cook County Health. “We are not aware of any other jail in America doing this level of testing. And it is paying off. The positivity rate for the last several weeks is less than 1% – an ongoing indication of containment.”


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