The Leon County Detention Facility has entered into a "COVID lockdown mode" amid a spike in cases amongst inmates, according to Leon County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Angela Green.
As of Friday morning, a total of 156 inmates and 38 employees at the Leon County Detention Facility were positive with the virus, Green said.
Two days before, however, the number of infected inmates was 95. The total jumped almost 65% after an entire pod — a section of the jail holding between 30-90 inmates — was tested, Green said.
The entire infected jail population is restricted to their cells, except for activities like showers, doctor visits and exercise, which they do in small rotating groups, she added. All eight pods in the facility have positive cases.
"It's like when you're quarantining at home," Green said. "They're isolated so they don't infect others."
All of these inmates have what Green called “soft symptoms," meaning symptoms are either non-existent or match those of the common cold. None are hospitalized, she said, adding, there have been no COVID-related deaths in recent months.
She said the Sheriff's Office enforces safety precautions to ensure the health of its incarcerated population.
All new inmates are placed into a brief quarantine upon their arrival. Then, whenever inmates show symptoms they are tested, leading them to either return to their pod or begin a minimum five-day quarantine.
Green added that more than 500 inmates have been fully vaccinated while in-custody since May 2021.
Looking for a COVID-19 test in Leon County? Here is a list of all local testing locations
'Ideally we never want to be down that many employees'
As for the Detention Facility's 249 employees, 15% are infected with the virus, putting a strain on the already slim staff.
"People are having to work extra," Green said Thursday. "Ideally we never want to be down that many employees."
When LCSO employees test positive, they are asked to isolate at home and retest after five days, as recommended by the CDC. For clearance to return to work, they need to provide a negative PCR test and be free of "significant symptoms," Green said.
She added that, because of the hard-working employees, the facility has been able to maintain operations successfully despite the staff shortage and current case numbers.
"Hats off to our staff for doing what they can and filling in when they can if possible," she said.
About 54% of LCSO's 679 employees, including deputies and detention staff, are vaccinated — a statistic boasted by Sheriff Walt McNeil at a recent press conference to urge locals to get vaccinated.
"We want to just send a message to the ... people in our community that you too can be safe and you can get that vaccine," He said, adding: "Not only are you saving yourself and your family, but you're saving lives, potentially lives here in Leon County."
'Good news': Local experts discuss omicron
On Friday, a group of Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare physicians held a press conference and expressed joy that, in their estimation, the omicron variant is proving to be less severe than the delta variant that pierced through the community in the early fall months.
"(Omicron) appears like it's a little less virulent, which is really good news," said Dr. Dean Watson, the vice president and chief integration officer at TMH.
He cited the statistic that nearly half of COVID-19 patients in TMH are considered "incidental," meaning they are being treated primarily for other injuries or illnesses.
As of Friday morning, there were 122 people with COVID-19 hospitalized between Tallahassee's two hospitals. There were 104 at TMH and 67 in Capital Regional Medical Center (CRMC).
The high number of "incidental" cases is showing on TMH's pediatric floor.
While the total pediatric admissions has increased since the new year, "at least 60% or 70%" of COVID cases are "incidental," according to Dr. Thomas Truman, a pediatric critical care physician at the hospital.
"They're here for other reasons," he added.
All four experts in the teleconference encouraged vaccinations, and boosters. Watson said it's clear that increased immunity protection comes with a greater chance of minimal symptoms.
"People who've been vaccinated and boosted? (They're) doing great," he said. "People who've been vaccinated without a booster? (They're) doing very, very well."
He continued: "People who've have not been vaccinated or don't have natural immunity? They're not doing as well."
Contact Christopher Cann at email@example.com and follow @ChrisCannFL on Twitter.
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This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Inmates, employees among COVID positive at Leon County jail