MORRIS COUNTY, NJ – As the Novel Coronavirus invades institutions across the world, about 10 percent of the Morris County Correctional Staff – a combination of 20 Corrections Officers and Non-Sworn Staff – have tested positive for the virus, the first on March 22, 2020. One Correctional Officer returned to work April 6, while other Officers also are expected to start returning to work this week.
As of Monday, nine Morris County Correctional Facility inmates have tested positive for COVID-19, which reflects 6.3 percent of the inmate population. There are several other inmates who are awaiting test results.
The facility inmate population as of Monday is 141, and the first inmate-related coronavirus case was confirmed on March 24.
The inmates affected by the coronavirus, all in stable condition, are being cared for in two housing units designated for medical isolation, one for males and one for females. They are receiving care from Facility nurses and the medical director who, like the Officers, wear surgical masks and personal protection gear when in close contact with the patients to provide maximum protection to themselves and the inmates.
Specific disinfection and social distancing rules were immediately implemented at the correctional facility on March 5 and steadily strengthened, culminating in a determination Sunday night to put the correctional facility on lock-down.
Surgical masks are issued daily to all inmates assigned to work within the kitchen and laundry units, as well as to any other inmate as deemed necessary by Correctional and Medical staff.
“I, along with Command Staff at the Correctional Facility, have been in constant contact with local and county health officials and instituted the sanitation and social distancing protocols advised by the Centers for Disease Control and state Department of Corrections,” Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon said.
Gannon said the Agency is working daily with the Morris County Health Officer and Morris Township Health Department, which reports to the New Jersey Department of Health. The Agency also reports to the New Jersey State Police on daily Law Enforcement Readiness.
“The positive cases at the Correctional Facility were inevitable, given the population and turnaround of inmates; however, the numbers are being managed extraordinarily well and we are heartened by the recovery and return of the first Corrections Officer to contract the virus,” Gannon said.
“The men and women of the Morris County Correctional Facility are true soldiers. When one temporarily falls from the line, two more step up! I’m now seeing some previously ill staff returning to replace those who replaced them,” Sheriff Gannon said.
As of 7:00 p.m. Sunday, the Correctional Facility was put on lock-down, which involves, in part, the following:
- Inmates will be permitted outside their cells for a half-hour per day to take a shower and/or make a telephone call. A maximum of two inmates may be out of their cells at one time to shower and/or make calls.
- All inmates are being fed in their cells instead of the dayroom.
- Preparation and serving of staff and inmate meals will exclusively be done by the Food Service contractor.
- A maximum of three inmates can wash dishes and sanitize in the kitchen but will not be involved with food handling or preparation.
- All inmates working in the kitchen and laundry will have temperature checks before starting work.
- Daily temperature checks will be conducted one inmate at a time on designated housing units.
- Only one inmate at a time will be permitted within the Medical Unit.
Gannon said he fully supports a recent resolution by the Major County Sheriffs of America, an association of the largest elected Sheriff’s Offices around the country with constituent bases of 500,000 people or more.
The Major County Sheriffs of America opposes broad release of inmates in response to the potential spread of COVID-19 in correctional facilities, and advocates that releases be made on a case-by-case basis that includes consideration of an individual’s conviction for violent crime offenses.
Release of inmates also must take into account their medical, mental health, housing and job needs, the resolution states.
“As Morris County Sheriff, I have a duty to ensure that citizens are safe and not left to worry, in addition to feeling anxiety about the coronavirus, that potentially high-risk people may be in the community,” Gannon said.
Over the past month, the correctional facility on a daily basis has re-evaluated its sanitation and social distancing policies, with the lock-down the most extreme measure to date.
A month ago, the healthcare providers conducting medical screenings of all new admission inmates started assessing inmates for COVID-19 by asking whether they had traveled to China or other outbreak areas within the past 14 days; whether they had contact with a person under investigation for the virus; whether they have a cough, shortness of breath or a fever. If the inmate answered yes to any of the above, the facility medical director was consulted.
On March 5, the correctional facility increased already-stringent cleaning methods to include daily sanitization of all commonly-touched areas, such as elevator doors, doorknobs, TV remotes, railings, faucets, desks, tables and chairs. Housing units were sanitized thoroughly twice a week, a schedule increased to sanitizations every other day.
On March 16, the correctional facility suspended visits between family members and inmates. Non-contact visits through a glass partition were permitted between attorneys and inmates but have now been halted, except for emergencies. Inmates and attorneys now communicate via videoconferencing
On March 17, prior to the first confirmed coronavirus case involving an officer, the facility mandated that all Officers and non-sworn staff undergo a temperature check before starting work. This precaution alerted multiple officers that they were symptomatic and they did not enter the facility after registering elevated temperatures.
Housing units were sanitized thoroughly twice a week, a schedule that was increased to every other day. As of April 1, a thorough cleaning of all commonly touched areas have been conducted a minimum of 4 times daily on all housing units. The medical isolation units undergo a deep cleaning and disinfection daily.
In addition, the temperatures of inmates on all new intake housing units have been taken on a daily basis. All other inmates have daily, 24-hour access to the facility’s medical unit to report symptoms or other health concerns.
As of mid-March 2020, the temperatures of all new admitted inmates have been taken and a series of questions asked about symptoms, travel and contact with symptomatic or people who have tested positive.