MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Shelby County Heath Department director Alisa Haushalter says 155 detainees and 37 employees at 201 Poplar have tested positive for COVID-19.
Speaking at Wednesday Memphis/Shelby County COVID-19 Task Force meeting, Haushalter said the health department is working multiple clusters across the county with a significant focus on 201 Poplar and corrections facilities.
On Friday, 266 individuals at 201 Poplar were tested for the virus. Results are still coming in, but so far nearly 200 detainees and employees have tested positive.
“That was a higher positivity than we would have expected amongst that specific population,” said Haushalter.
Sheriff Floyd Bonner said most of the detainees are asymptomatic, but they’ve been removed from their quarantined pods and placed in isolation elsewhere in the jail.
“They are still inside of 201. We’ve moved them into the sixth floor. That particular area was sterilized before we moved those inmates up there."
Bonner said all of the detainees who tested positive are in jail on felony charges, the most serious of which is first-degree murder.
On Friday, officials said 400 inmates were being tested.
Haushalter now says that was an estimate they came up with, with the help of an epidemiologist who worked in prisons.
“That’s how many test cases were taken to the facility, but my understanding is ultimately all of the detainees, except one who may have refused, were tested,” said Haushalter.
They are now working with public health officials to investigate how the detainees contracted the virus.
Bonner said there are 1,790 detainees at 201 Poplar, 165 at Jail East and 61 youth at Juvenile Court. For weeks, the sheriff’s office and the district attorney general’s office have been working together to reduce jail populations in order to stem the spread of the virus.
“A jail is one of the worst places you can be in a viral outbreak like this, said Josh Spickler with Just City, a nonprofit focused on the criminal justice system.
Spickler says he’s concerned about the inmates who are still in the jail because they can’t afford to make bail.
“Unfortunately, we hear from judges...that the safest place to be is in jail,” said Spickler. “Well, hopefully that has been proven wrong."
Bonner also gave an update on Shelby County Sheriff’s Office employees with the virus. As of Wednesday, 50 correctional deputies, four law enforcement officers and three civilian employees have tested positive. Several have already recovered, but two are hospitalized.
Mayor Lee Harris said 74 Shelby County government employees have tested positive and another 156 employees are quarantined.