MARYVILLE, Teen. (WATE) – More than 500 inmates and corrections deputies will be tested for the coronavirus beginning next week, Blount County Sheriff James Lee Berrong said Friday.
The decision comes after several inmates tested positive for the virus within the last two weeks, Berrong said.
The tests will be administered by medical staff employed by Southern Health Partners, the company that administers health care to Blount County inmates along with the Blount County Health Department.
Sixteen inmates have tested positive and are quarantined and recovering in a separate, confined area within the corrections facility, he said. The majority of inmates who tested positive are reporting mild symptoms with one inmate requiring additional medical observation.
No inmates have died from the virus.
Twenty Sheriff’s Office employees have tested positive for COVID-19 since mid-July. Of those employees, all but three are recovered and returned to work.
Berrong said the office continues to follow CDC guidelines and the COVID-19 recommendations established by the State of Tennessee Health Department, including vigorous deep cleaning throughout the Justice Center and corrections facility, assuring employees who are symptomatic stay at home, mandating face coverings and physical distancing for our deputies when communicating with citizens on calls for service, requiring face coverings and taking the temperature of citizens entering the Justice Center, closely monitoring the health of incoming arrestees before being allowed into the corrections facility, and other requirements.
“We are doing everything in our power to keep COVID-19 out of the Justice Center and our corrections facility,” he said. “Because we are a 24/7 operation and our patrol and corrections deputies continually make contact with citizens and inmates throughout their shifts, our deputies are particularly vulnerable.
“Over the last few months, we have learned a lot about COVID-19. An important characteristic of this virus is that some people don’t know they have it because they are asymptomatic — no fever, nor any of the other common symptoms attributable to COVID-19.
“Wearing face coverings and practicing physical distancing only goes so far in some of the situations our deputies are exposed to.
“We will continue to do our best to stop the spread of COVID-19 with the resources we have, and we will NOT stop serving and protecting this community.”
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