COOK COUNTY, IL – As the Chicago area experiences a concerning increase in the number of new COVID-19 cases, Cook County Sheriff Thomas J. Dart is asking the public to get vaccinated and strictly follow the latest CDC guidelines because community spread of the virus poses a significant threat to individuals in congregate settings such as the Cook County Jail.
“History has clearly shown that when cases rise in the community, we see a subsequent increase in the number of cases in the jail, not the reverse,” Dart said. “Jail staff, working closely with Cermak Health Services and public health officials, have developed aggressive, comprehensive protocols to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the jail, but an increase in new cases in the general public threatens the health of jail employees and those ordered into custody.”
The combined effect of comprehensive and innovative COVID-19 safety procedures has proven extraordinarily successful at the jail, where the current test positivity rate is 0.8%, compared to 3.5% for the City of Chicago and 4.2% for Cook County. Last month, there were 12 new cases of COVID-19 at the jail, and of those 11 were identified as positive during the intake process. However, the jail has seen the same number of new cases in just the last week, with 11 of them found to be positive during the intake process, which includes a separation period from the general population in order to help prevent spread of the virus.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, more than 84,000 tests have been administered to individuals ordered into custody at the jail, where every newly detained person is tested upon arrival and then housed separately for more than a week for observation and subsequent testing before being moved into the general population. Individuals who test positive are immediately isolated and receive medical attention, while those who were in contact with the individual are tested, quarantined, and remain under observation. As soon as vaccines were available, the Sheriff’s Office and Cermak Health Services launched robust efforts to encourage vaccination and administer vaccines to staff and detained individuals. Jail employees have also developed a comprehensive release protocol to screen for symptoms, provide COVID safety information, help ensure individuals are returning to safe housing, and connect those who test positive to medical care in the community.
These measures – in addition to existing enhanced cleaning and sanitizing protocols, social distancing, and widespread PPE usage – were found by researchers at Yale and Stanford universities to have dramatically reduced the number of positive cases, hospitalizations, and deaths from the virus. The measures were also evaluated by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which lauded the jail’s nation-leading testing regimen, extensive social distancing measures, and PPE protocols as a model for other incarceration facilities.
Unfortunately, the battle against COVID-19 isn’t over, and with the spread of the Delta variant in Illinois and across the nation, the growing number of new positives are once again threatening lives. Sheriff Dart is urging citizens to continue to follow up-to-date guidance from public health experts, including the latest recommendation from the CDC that everyone – including those who are vaccinated – wear masks while indoors.
“We are determined to use all our resources to protect our staff and those ordered into custody, but what takes place outside eventually impacts the jail, and we need everyone’s help,” Dart said. “Please do your part. Get vaccinated, practice social distancing, and wear your mask. It can save lives.”