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First Coast

156 Inmates Test Positive For COVID-19 In Clay County Jail

Outside of Clay County Jail, large grey building with multiple levels, the american flag and florida flag waving up above it.
Sky Lebron
In early September, the Clay County Sheriff's Office announced 18 inmates had tested positive for COVID-19, the first confirmed cases in the Clay County Jail.

A little more than a week after the Clay County Sheriff's Office confirmed its first positive COVID-19 cases in the Clay County Jail, the department says 156 of the inmates have tested positive.

According to Clay County Sheriff Michelle Cook, a third of the inmates have tested positive for coronavirus and are being isolated away from the other inmates. She said there are currently 472 inmates total.

“This is an area where people eat, sleep, live, 24/7,” Cook said. “So it was really only a matter of time before either an employee or an inmate brought COVID-19 into the facility. And now that it's here, we're doing everything we can to keep everybody safe.”

Up to 70 inmates refused testing, according to Cook, so the department treats them as if they are positive and they are lumped into isolation with people who are confirmed positives. 

Cook said eight correctional officers have also tested positive for the coronavirus and are currently self-isolating. A total of 104 deputies work in the jail. 

Employees in the jail are required to wear masks and are given personal protection equipment  and hand sanitizer for their shift. They also have their temperature checked at the beginning of each shift. 

Inmates are strongly encouraged to wear masks and are given extra cleaning materials, according to Cook.

Other measures being taken in the jail include the usage of negative airflow cells, extra sanitization of dishes and utensils, limiting inmate work crews, and a disinfectant fogger machine that the department runs through the building a couple times a day. 

Cook said inmates will be tested every two weeks now, and medical personnel are on-site at all times. New inmates coming in are screened, and they are put into isolation if they show any signs or symptoms. 

Initially, the isolation period was seven days, but that has been extended to two weeks.

“They're not allowed to leave a certain cell block area,” said Chris Coldiron, the Clay County Jail’s Director of Detention. 

Coldiron said inmate cells range in size from single rooms, to 67 beds in a larger cell.

Heather Huffman with the Clay County Department of Health said testing has gotten quicker in the county, and turnaround times for results have shrunk from five to seven days, to about 36 to 48 hours. 

Cook commended the jail “for going so long without COVID-19 being introduced into the facility.”

“That's actually remarkable considering our general population sits between the 470 and 490 range, and to go from March until mid-September, early September before we actually get a case of COVID introduced and then, very quickly, as soon as we realized we had it, they were on top of it, putting these additional measures in place to quarantine and isolate those that tested positive and getting the testing in there,” she said. 

Coldiron mentioned that the jail does have some air circulation issues that they are trying to get resolved so they can “push the air around.”  He said they hope to have some of the units replaced by the next fiscal year.

Sky Lebron can be reached at, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @SkylerLebron.