At least two dozen inmates and employees have tested positive for COVID-19 in Hamilton County jails, though the full count is unknown.
Numbers provided by the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office in response to a Times Free Press request on Thursday show that 10 inmates, five employees and one contract employee at the Silverdale Detention Facility have active COVID-19. They have been quarantined per Hamilton County Health Department and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
When asked the same day, CoreCivic, the private company that operates the Silverdale facility, reported that an additional six staff members had previously been diagnosed with COVID-19 and have since recovered have from the virus, totaling 12 known cases among 160 employees. The company declined to provide a total number of past and present cases among inmates.
"Since even before any confirmed cases of COVID-19 in our facilities, including Silverdale Detention Center, we have rigorously followed the guidance of local, state and federal health authorities, as well as our government partners," CoreCivic spokeswoman Amanda Gilchrist wrote. "We have responded to this unprecedented situation appropriately, thoroughly and with care for the safety and well-being of those entrusted to us and our communities."
A spokesperson for the sheriff's office said Friday that he is not sure if the county will be releasing a total number of cases among the just over 1,000 inmates at Silverdale, but told the Times Free Press that the numbers are "telling" regarding how well the county has handled the pandemic in the jails.
"When you have a population of people as large as Silverdale, it is inevitable there will be people who will contract COVID-19," sheriff's office spokesman Matt Lea said by email Thursday. "We do not release the numbers routinely due to the fact those numbers change continually. Despite the large number, it is obvious our precautions are working to help ensure the safety of our personnel and the inmates in our charge."
According to the sheriff's office, another inmate and a contract employee at the Hamilton County Jail facility in downtown Chattanooga, which is both owned and operated by the county, actively have the virus and are quarantined. On July 23, the county reported that six inmates and three employees of the downtown facility were active cases.
When the sheriff's office reported a correctional officer had tested positive for the virus on June 5, the jails had reported only one inmate and one employee total testing positive.
Hamilton County Health Department Administrator Becky Barnes told the Times Free Press Thursday that both facilities did facility-wide testing, but that they could not provide numbers because the jails conducted the testing and the health department's "role was just setting up laboratory support."
Asked about complaints made about the safety of inmates and employees, Barnes said the health department is aware of one anonymous complaint that came into its COVID-19 hotline, but did not provide further details.
CoreCivic said the company has not received any complaints from inmates or employees of the Silverdale facility.
Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @_sarahgtaylor.