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Razor wire tops the fences surrounding the Walker County Jail. / Staff Photo by Angela Lewis / Chattanooga Times Free Press Jun. 25, 2012

Walker County Sheriff Steve Wilson told the Times Free Press on Thursday that of the 178 inmates currently in the county jail, 31 have tested positive.

A total of 42 inmates were tested, meaning over 73% of inmates who have tested came back positive.

The 31 inmates represent just about 17% of the total population, but the positivity rate is still alarming.

Wilson and his staff do not plan on testing every inmate, only the inmates that are showing symptoms or ones that have been exposed to another person that has tested positive.

Inmates aren't regularly tested but the jail is working with the Walker County Health Department to test inmates as needed.

"All inmates are being treated by the jail medical staff," Wilson said. "Inmates who have tested positive and inmates pending results have been quarantined."

Wilson said none of the 31 inmates have had to be hospitalized due their conditions.

Wilson said the jail was able to avoid any COVID-19 infections until about Dec. 18, when the first inmate tested positive.

In Whitfield County, Sheriff Scott Chitwood said Friday morning that he anticipates many inmates will be coming out of quarantine next week.

"The last count I had was about 30 that should come out of quarantine this coming Tuesday," Chitwood said. "But again, of those 30 that tested positive, are those false positive results? I'm just saying it poses that question simply because we've had nobody with major, major symptoms."

Like Walker County, there is no regular testing for inmates at the Whitfield County jail. When someone is arrested and comes to jail from the outside, they are put into a 14-day quarantine for precaution. If an inmate doesn't show any symptoms, they are put into general population.

Only when an inmate starts to show symptoms do they get tested, Chitwood said.

The jail currently has about 420 inmates. Test results for 32 jail employees all came back negative this week.

"Fortunately we've been very good with it, very cautious and very conscientious about it and I think we've been able to keep a very good handle on it here within our facility," Chitwood said.

In neighboring Chattooga County, the jail dealt with a serious COVID-19 outbreak in July when nearly all of the 15 full-time employees at the Chattooga County Jail had either tested positive for the coronavirus or were out sick with symptoms of the virus.

Chattooga County Sheriff Mark Schrader scrambled to fill shifts, taking people from his administrative department and putting them on jail duty all while trying to negotiate with the jail's health care provider to get the two dozen inmates tested.

Schrader said at the time nine or 10 inmates ended up testing positive, which was nearly half of the inmate population at the time, but the worst symptom reported was an inmate with a runny nose.

Contact Patrick Filbin at pfilbin@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6476. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickFilbin.

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