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Cayuga County Jail screening new inmates, limiting staff due to coronavirus

Cayuga County Jail screening new inmates, limiting staff due to coronavirus

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Sheriff Brian Schenck said he and jail administration at the Cayuga County jail are strategizing for the possible arrival of the novel coronavirus.

No one is under quarantine at the Cayuga County Jail, but Sheriff Brian Schenck said he and jail administration are strategizing for the possible arrival of the novel coronavirus.

Two Cayuga County residents have contracted the the virus and the resulting disease COVID-19. One former Auburn Correctional Facility inmate tested positive for the virus after leaving the prison on March 17, causing custody staff who had direct contact with the inmate to be put into mandatory quarantine.

For Schenck, that's one of the biggest concerns: losing custody staff to illness or quarantines. 

"We don’t have a lot of extra staff to start with. So we’re trying to do everything we can to make sure that our staff stays healthy and takes the proper precautions to do that," he said.

The jail has already been closed to contact and non-contact visitation for a week, with attorney visits restricted to non-contact, to limit the number people coming in and out of the building as much as possible.

Essential employees like custody staff, administrators who oversee custody and a mental health counselor who addresses the needs of inmates are still reporting to the jail, but trying to limit their time there. Employees with a contractor called Trinity Services, which provides inmate meals at the jail, are also coming into the building to cook.

Meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and the behavioral criminal justice program called Thinking For a Change and educational programs that usually take place in the Public Safety Building have been suspended until further notice.

Officials are also trying to spread inmates out depending on where they are within the different layouts within the jail, like the open pod and dorm area where inmates are held together.

Schenck said they are "constantly planning" strategies to prevent the spread of the virus into the Sennett facility at 7445 County House Road. But they’re also working on a plan for quarantine if any inmate presents with signs of illness. 

The jail is still holding centralized arraignments following new arrests, and all inmates entering the facility for booking are assessed for potential risk to the coronavirus using a questionnaire screening tool, Schenck said. Other law enforcement agencies have also been asked to call ahead if a detained person shows symptoms so the jail can prepare.

Even as court proceedings are temporarily suspended, putting all pending criminal cases on hold, Schenck said their current inmate population of 121 has been roughly the same level for the last few months.

LIST: Cayuga County-area COVID-19 closures, cancellations, meeting/event updates

"It’s a work in progress that we’re working on every day," he said. "To keep track of the number of cases out there, where they are, just to make sure we can limit our exposure here in our building."

Staff writer Mary Catalfamo can be reached at (315) 282-2244 or Find her on Twitter @mrycatalfamo.

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Crime/courts reporter

I cover criminal court, public safety and the Cayuga County government for The Citizen and You can also find my health and entertainment features online and in the Lake Life section of the paper.

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