Fourteen employees of the Erie County Holding Center have been ordered to stay home because they had close contact with a jail deputy who tested positive for Covid-19 and also is quarantined at home.
"All have been advised to stay home, self-isolate and await further instructions," said Thomas Diina, superintendent of the county's Jail Management Division.
He said the Holding Center still has enough staff "to cover the absence of those 14," but he acknowledged the difficulty of maintaining a safe social distance between people in a jail.
Fortunately, Diina said in a teleconference with reporters Saturday, the populations of inmates at the Holding Center in downtown Buffalo and at the county Correctional Facility in Alden are at fractions of the facilities' capacities, largely because New York's bail reform law took effect this year.
As of Saturday morning, the Holding Center was at 47% of its capacity of 638 inmates. The Correctional Facility, which can house 884 inmates, was at 39%, Diina said. He said the Jail Management Division has no plans to release more inmates because of Covid-19 concerns without court involvement.
As further precautions, the Jail Management Division has cut off visits to inmates from outsiders and tried to stagger starting times to limit contact among the staff as they start or end their shifts.
Meanwhile, two inmates who were in contact with the deputy who tested positive were placed in a unit with eight other inmates who either have reported Covid-19 symptoms or need to be monitored because of contact they may have had with others, said Dr. Kevin McGee. He is chief medical officer for the county's Division of Correctional Health.
McGee said the jail's medical employees are being fitted with special N95 surgical masks, but the plan is to fit all Sheriff's Office employees, including road deputies, with the masks should they need them.
"Our goal is to make sure the entire staff is prepared," McGee said.