FARGO — An inmate at the Cass County Jail in Fargo has tested positive for COVID-19, the illness caused by coronavirus.
A male inmate in his 30s was booked into the jail Tuesday, April 7, and then held in isolation before testing positive for the illness on Saturday, April 12, Sheriff Jesse Jahner said.
The inmate, whom the department will not name due to considerations for medical privacy, was tested for the virus Thursday at a Sanford medical facility following evaluations by medical staff at the jail. Like all newly booked inmates, he went through an isolation screening process lasting several days and did not have any direct contact with other inmates, Jahner said.
The inmate remains in isolation at the jail and has displayed very minor symptoms, Jahner said.
Four correctional officers who were exposed to the inmate have been sent home to quarantine for 14 days, Jahner said. The officers who had contact with the inmate during intake wore personal protective equipment, so there is no indication they were infected, he said.
“Just to be on the safe side, we have them on days off right now,” Jahner said of those staff members. “We’re going to have them get tested before they come back to work.”
The Fargo Police Department made the arrest, but spokeswoman Jessica Schindeldecker said the department would not provide any information about whether the arresting officers had been tested or self-quarantining.
The only other contact the inmate has had with correctional officers is when he received meals through the meal slot at the door, which is normal procedure, Jahner said. Officers who did interact with the inmate wore personal protective equipment, he added.
“We feel fairly confident with the procedures that we have in place that our staff who does have to interact with him are taking the proper procedures so that it doesn’t spread throughout the facility,” Jahner said.
The jail has implemented a process for taking in inmates during the outbreak. It includes asking coronavirus-specific questions, taking the person's temperature, looking for symptoms and quarantining the person for three to five days. Staff members have also taken extra precaution in wearing protective equipment and cleaning surfaces in the jail frequently, Jahner said.
The sheriff said he informed staff and inmates of the positive test Sunday morning — a process that included visiting each cell block to personally speak with inmates. Jahner said there's always a concern for keeping the jail secure, but he noted that passing along news of the positive test to inmates was another effort to prevent any unrest.
Nine inmates escaped from a women's prison in Pierre, S.D., last month after a fellow inmate tested positive for the virus. At least seven of the escapees have since been taken back into custody.
Cass County leaders previously floated the idea of releasing low-risk inmates to make room at the jail, but Jahner and his department has instead opted to take measures like restricting visitors and setting court dates for suspected offenders instead of booking people for minor crimes.