COVID-19 update: Second death in on the Cape, first COVID-19 case in Dennis; sheriff outlines COVID-19 safety for inmates

BOSTON, MA – The Mass Department of Public Health reports 10 more deaths statewide in the past 24 hours. This included a man in 90’s from Barnstable County, the second death on Cape Cod. The report indicates the latest victim was hospitalized but his preexisting condition status was unknown. This brings the statewide total to 35 people. The DPH reports there are 100 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Barnstable County.

Meanwhile, The Town of Dennis reports that they were notified today of its first confirmed case of coronavirus (COVID-19). All proper protocols, including contact investigation and notification, are being followed by the Visiting Nurses Association of Cape Cod in coordination with the Dennis Health Department. Close contacts of the positive case have been notified by the Visiting Nurses Association and are following CDC guidelines for self-quarantine. Due to privacy laws, no further details about the patient will be provided.

Elsewhere, Sheriff James M. Cummings has joined all his fellow Sheriffs and the majority of District Attorney’s against any mass release of inmates “Such a decision, as is proposed by groups who represent inmates would be a danger to the community and setting the inmates up for failure.”

“In Barnstable we have two housing units set aside in response to the COVID-19 crisis. All new non-symptomatic admissions to the Barnstable County Correctional Facility are housed in a single cell, placed on a Non-Constant Observation Medical Watch, and monitored by medical for symptoms of COVID-19 for a period of fourteen (14) days.  As a precaution, during the fourteen (14) day quarantine, new inmate movement is limited.  These inmates are permitted out of the cell for a shower and phone use only.  In addition, a separate housing unit has been designated for any inmate exhibiting signs or symptoms of COVID 19.  Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) has been placed into POD-D for officer safety.  As of today, there are no confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19 among the inmates at the Barnstable County Correctional Facility.  To allow all inmates to communicate with their family members, free phone calls are available to inmates.”

Working together, the Massachusetts Sheriffs are committed to serving the communities they are sworn to protect. This responsibility includes the health and well-being of their justice-involved populations and the dedicated men and women on their teams of corrections professionals.  Every Sheriff sees it as their duty to ensure that the public safety and public health needs of all who live and work within their facilities are fully met.  That responsibility only grows during global emergencies, and the Sheriffs are meeting the COVID-19 pandemic head-on.

Although the authority to release a detainee lies with the courts and the respective District Attorney’s Office, the Sheriffs are committed to working with the judiciary as well as Law Enforcement partners to identify appropriate persons eligible for release. The priority of Sheriffs is always to have a re-entry release plan that helps individuals transition back into the community.  A lack of community support services, particularly during a public health crisis, could set individuals and the communities up for failure.

The Massachusetts Sheriffs and their staff are working tirelessly to safely manage their staff and inmate populations and to curb the spread of COVID-19 to their county jails and house of corrections.  They provide an exceptional level of care in their facilities, and are prepared for public health scenarios such as this.  The Sheriffs have implemented proactive and strategic steps to limit the transmission of COVID-19 including: 

v Providing in-service training on infectious diseases and emergency preparedness for staff before, during and after this crisis.

v Deploying enhanced intake screening protocols to evaluate new arrivals for symptoms of COVID-19 and limit potential transmission.

v Providing a high level of medical care for all individuals while employing specific protocols when potential or confirmed cases of COVID-19 may arise.

v Engagement with medical experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) and the National Commission on Correctional Health Care (NCCHC) to ensure that their medical practices are maximally effective and responsive to the COVID-19  pandemic.

v Encouraging staff and their justice-involved populations to follow the CDC-recommended practices regarding handwashing, social distancing, continuous sanitizing of facilities and general transmission prevention. Signage has increased throughout the facilities to serve as a reminder of these practices.

v Enhancing screening of staff entering the facility.

v Temporarily suspending in-person visits for families and friends while enhancing alternative means of communication. This includes a range of options such as additional phone calls, mail services or, where available, increased access to text messaging and video conferencing.  

v Working with the courts, enhancing videoconferencing and teleconferencing technology to ensure that an inmate’s access to the court is continued.  

In addition to strategic efforts the Sheriffs have implemented to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in their facilities, the Sheriffs are working proactively with other law enforcement agencies and community advocates to review the individualized cases of those in their custody to ensure appropriate care and release information is provided.

It is crucial to each Sheriff that every individual leaves their custody with an individualized and specialized care plan. Releasing individuals without that level of preparation would be a dereliction of the Sheriff’s duty – and would not set up the justice-involved individual or their communities for a successful reentry.

During this uncertain and unsettling time, we understand many are concerned about the safety and protection of the justice-involved populations.  As an association, we share this same concern.   No one however, is more concerned with the health and well-being of those in their care than our Sheriffs.   Their safety, health and wellbeing is always at the forefront of the Sheriffs’ and their daily decision making. 

Our Sheriffs are continuously meeting and evaluating their protocols relating to COVID-19 to ensure the safety and welfare to those they serveShould the Sheriffs see change in the status of the safety of their institutions, they will not hesitate to make any decision or take any measure necessary to keep their population healthy and safe.
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Hyannis, MA 02601
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