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Niagara County Jail officer tests positive for Covid-19

A corrections officer at the Niagara County Jail has tested positive for Covid-19, acting Sheriff Michael J. Filicetti announced Tuesday.

It's the first confirmed case of the virus for anyone connected with the jail or the Sheriff's Office.

Filicetti said the officer has been at home for two weeks after showing symptoms of the virus, and is recovering at home.

Filicetti said the officer began to show symptoms about two weeks ago, during two scheduled days off. The officer stayed home from work and eventually obtained a test last week through a local hospital. The positive result was not received until Monday night, the sheriff said.

All Sheriff's Office employees are screened for Covid-19 symptoms daily by having their temperature taken, Filicetti said.

No inmates have shown any Covid-19 symptoms, Filicetti said.

"At this point we're following Health Department protocols, but there won't be any additional testing in the facility right now," Filicetti said.

Tests remain hard to obtain. Niagara County Public Health Director Daniel J. Stapleton said Monday that he ordered 1,500 test kits from the state and received 100. He said first responders, health care workers and pregnant women are the priority patients for use of the available tests.

Although formal testing has not been available for inmates, Filicetti said that since the outbreak began, all new inmates are screened by having their temperature taken and being asked questions about their health.

In addition, all new inmates are given a mask and held in the Special Housing Unit, a cluster of separate solitary cells, for at least seven days "just as a precaution," Filicetti said.

Although 17 inmates were ordered freed in Erie County Monday, there has been no move so far to free inmates from the Niagara County Jail. Filicetti said the matter has been discussed, but no court order has been issued.

Niagara County District Attorney Caroline A. Wojtaszek said she sent memos to defense attorneys March 24 expressing a willingness to review cases.

Only one attorney filed a release motion, seeking a break for a man who has asthma and is serving a six-month sentence for embezzling money from bank accounts. County Judge Sara Sheldon rejected it.

"Covid-19 is not a get out of jail free card," Wojtaszek said.

Niagara County has room to spread out inmates if it needs to do so because of an outbreak.

Filicetti said there were 277 inmates in custody Tuesday morning. The jail's capacity is 449, and all double-bunking in cells has been abolished. Filicetti said he allowed a state variance that allowed double-bunking to lapse, and he has a plan in case of an infected inmate.

"We would work with our medical provider, isolate and medical (providers) would go through the lower level testing to rule out common colds, flu, things like that," Filicetti said. "Ultimately we would do a Covid test if necessary, but they can be isolated. We have plenty of room here. You may have seen other facilities where inmates are still double-bunked. If I had that situation going on here, that would be very problematic."

Meanwhile, all corrections and patrol officers were issued N95 respirator masks last month. Filicetti said that they can wear the masks if they encounter a situation they consider risky to their health, but wearing masks has not been required.

Filicetti said there is discussion of issuing cotton masks to all officers in line with Centers for Disease Control guidance issued last week.

Niagara County, in first update since Friday, adds 27 Covid-19 cases

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