AUGUSTA COUNTY, Va. (WHSV) — (UPDATE: 3/27/20) An inmate at Middle River Regional Jail tested negative for COVID-19, according to jail officials.
Middle River Regional Jail is currently almost three times over its intended capacity, with upwards of 900 inmates a day. The facility was built for 396. | Credit: WHSV
"The Jail would like to express its sincere thanks to all of the healthcare staff working to overcome this virus in this unprecedented time," a press release stated.
In the press release authorized by jail superintendent Jeffery L. Newton, a health official from the Central Shenandoah Health District confirmed the negative results on Friday.
This was the first test for an inmate at the jail in Augusta County.
An inmate at Middle River Regional Jail has been tested for COVID-19. It's the first test for an inmate at the jail in Augusta County.
The inmate and the test
The results have not come back yet — and it will take two to three days for them to be processed, according to the Virginia Department of Health.
According to officials with the jail, the inmate is a 37-year-old man who was being held in the jail for a felony probation violation. They say he doesn't have any underlying health conditions, but has been in their custody since March 11.
Jail officials say the inmate recently self-reported that he had visited New York in the first week of March, before he was taken into custody. He was unsure where exactly he was, according to the jail, but somewhere in the area of New York City.
The jail started screening new inmates for symptoms of COVID-19 the day after the inmate's arrival, on March 12.
The Virginia Department of Health came to the facility to test the inmate this week.
The jail's response
In response to the test taken, Middle River says they've isolated the inmate and have been coordinating with the Central Shenandoah Health District.
Since the time of the test, the jail says staff have been implementing operational procedures to suspend inmate movement and all other activity except that necessary to continue the jail's basic functions.
The Director of Operations and Chief of Inmate Medical have met with all inmates who were in the same housing unit as the inmate who was tested to explain the situation to them, but there is no word on whether those inmates will be able to be tested as well, at least until results come back.
A notice of the test was also sent to all inmates at the jail.
If the test comes back positive, Middle River will move to activate long-term operational changes that they have planned for.
Jail superintendent Jeffery Newton previously told WHSV that they have close to 900 inmates at the jail, which was meant for a population of 396.
"We have folks living together in close proximity, breathing the same air," Newton said last week. "My concern is that if we have somebody that enters the facility with the disease, it would quickly spread."
Newton told WHSV at the time that the overcrowded facility would make it very difficult to be able to isolate inmates who potentially have the virus.
Visitation has been suspended at the jail, just like all Virginia correctional facilities, since March 13.
While visitation is suspended, inmates get two free calls a week. Jail officials say inmates can also continue to stay in contact with family through email, writing letters, and additional debit and collect phone calls.
Releasing non-violent offenders?
As of March 26, at least 30 inmates had been released from the jail in recent days to reduce overcrowding amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
Sixteen inmates from Augusta County have been released, as well as 15 inmates from Waynesboro, who were each either admitted to bail or had the remainder of their sentence furloughed until June 1.
Prosecutors in the Shenandoah Valley have been evaluating which inmates could be released from the jail to reduce the population at risk.
Augusta County Commonwealth's Attorney Tim Martin is one of those prosecutors.
"The prosecutors in the area got together and came up with criteria and among those criteria are non-violent inmates who were going to be released within the next 30 days anyway," Martin said.
He said he thinks it's important to protect vulnerable people both in and outside the facilities, and that's done by making sure COVID-19 doesn't spread.
"That's bad for the inmates, but it's also really bad for the population at large, because there is movement in and out of the facility," Martin said.
While some may have concerns about public safety, Martin said they have not released any inmates they think would be a danger to the general public.
"The numbers are very small, and we've done everything that we can to vet each and every one of the people who is being released early," Martin said.
The inmates being considered for release are non-violent. For example, Martin said one inmate released early was someone serving time for petit larceny. Additionally, not everyone is being released. Martin said some are being put on home electronic monitoring, and some are being furloughed, meaning they'd have to serve the rest of their time at a later date.
Newton said if people have questions about if someone is being released, they should contact their respective commonwealth attorney's office or court. He said the jail does not have the authority to decide who is released.