The Douglas County Health Department has been coordinating with the Douglas County Jail to bring COVID-19 vaccines to the roughly 60 inmates who have requested them. The vaccines could be administered as early as this week.
Douglas County Public Health Officer Kathy Ronchi said Thursday, June 10, that her office has been coordinating with new jail medical staff to complete their application to the state, which will allow them to be vaccinators and keep vaccine on site.
“In the meantime, we are surveying the unvaccinated inmates and will be coordinating with the state to make sure anyone who wants a vaccine gets it," she said.
Although the vaccine has been available to everyone age 16 and older in Wisconsin since April 5, Jail Administrator Tyler Edwards said there were additional barriers to access in a controlled jail setting.
Staff had to be trained to give the shots, as medical personnel can’t be brought in.
“We’ve basically had the jail shut down for safety reasons, and so we try to limit having almost no outside people coming in other than staff,” Edwards said.
Johnson & Johnson vaccines were needed, as well. Edwards said officials don't often know how long an inmate will stay in the jail, and they wanted to make sure those who receive a vaccine wouldn't have to worry about scheduling a second shot.
“Once they get it, they’re done," he said.
Applying to be a certified vaccination site, where vaccines could be stored and administered, has taken the longest. Edwards said that they started looking at the process as soon as vaccines rolled out, but had to wait their turn as vaccines were targeted to higher-priority populations first.
There have been 15 COVID-19 cases reported at the jail since March 2020, Edwards said. Of those, less than 10 were inmates and the majority of them were people coming in from the outside who already had the virus.
“And we caught it right away, and we’ve been isolating so ... we never had a point where it spread,” he said.
The Douglas County Jail has been cloistered since the pandemic hit, Edwards said. The only intakes have been arrests involving major crimes and warrants, to provide more space. The jail has a staff of 45 people and a current inmate count of 150 as of Friday, June 11, the administrator said. Prior to COVID-19, the average daily population at the Douglas County Jail was about 185 inmates. At one point during the pandemic, that was down to 100, Edwards said, but the average is now about 135.
Jail inmates and staff remain fully masked all the time, and protocol has been developed to keep incoming prisoners isolated from the general population until time and testing indicate newcomers are free of the virus. Anyone on Huber work release was set up with electronic monitoring from their residences to limit contact between the community and the jail.
Ronchi indicated that vaccines could roll out for inmates as soon as she had a final number on how many want one.
“There is just a bit of coordination to do to receive the vaccine,” she said.
The jail lobby will remain closed to the public through at least October, Edwards said, but all of the inmates have access to video visitations, phone, email and texting.