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Photo by Austin Garrett, Chief Deputy Hamilton County Sheriff's Department / The 2nd floor of the Hamilton County Jail, which usually houses 120 inmates, is empty. With the COVID-19 pandemic the jail population has decreased.

Nearly 50 inmates and employees have tested positive for COVID-19 in Hamilton County jails, doubling partial counts provided to the Times Free Press last week.

New numbers provided by the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office show that 15 inmates at the Hamilton County Jail downtown and 20 at the Silverdale facility have contracted the novel coronavirus this year, in addition to at least 13 employees who have gotten ill between the two facilities. Combined, that means at least 48 employees and inmates have tested positive for the virus since June.

Citing privacy laws, a spokesman for the sheriff's office declined to provide further details on the cases.

The numbers dwarf a response to a Times Free Press request last week, which only included currently active cases, that stated only 10 inmates, five employees and one contract employee at the Silverdale Detention Facility had tested positive for COVID-19. The sheriff's office reported they had been quarantined per Hamilton County Health Department and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

Asked the same day, CoreCivic, the private company that operates the Silverdale facility, reported an additional six staff members had previously been diagnosed with COVID-19 and since have recovered 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.

Late last week, a spokeswoman for CoreCivic told the Times Free Press that the company is following all local and federal safety guidelines to prevent cases.

"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 Thursday. "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."

Hamilton County Health Department Administrator Becky Barnes also said Thursday that both facilities did facility-wide testing, but that her department 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 staylor@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @_sarahgtaylor.

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