Okla. county jails not required to disclose COVID-19 transfers

Several jails have reported receiving inmates who tested positive with no prior knowledge of their diagnosis


By Reese Gorman
The Norman Transcript

CLEVELAND COUNTY, Okla. — County jail officials in Oklahoma are not required to notify other county jails before transferring an inmate who has tested positive for COVID-19, officials told The Transcript.

Several county jails, including Cleveland County, have reported instances of receiving transferred inmates who tested positive for the virus with no prior knowledge of their diagnosis.

The Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Joy Hampton told The Transcript recent cases of COVID-19 in Cleveland County Jail tested positive upon entering the jail.

Hampton said she does not believe jails are transferring COVID-19 positive inmates intentionally.

However, no state laws or mandates require county jails to disclose positive cases before transferring inmates, Canadian County Sheriff Chris West said.

“There [are] no state laws or mandates that require us to [alert other jails], but I think it’s common decency to do it,” Canadian County Sheriff Chris West said. “We have picked up some [inmates who have COVID-19] and transported them that [the county jail didn’t] tell us [about], and we didn’t find out for a couple of days.”

West spoke of two separate occasions where a county jail had called him telling him they forgot to mention that the inmate who was sent to the Candian County Jail had tested positive for COVID-19.

In one instance, it was Oklahoma County Detention Center, West said.

“A few weeks back, we picked up a couple inmates from Oklahoma County jail and about a day or two later they called us and said, ‘Hey, we forgot to tell you, but they tested positive for COVID-19,’” West said.

Canadian County Jail does require all inmates to be quarantined before entering the general population to prevent outbreak, West said. However, despite the mandatory quarantine, an outbreak can still occur.

West said that three weeks ago, 24 of the 34 inmates — or 71 percent — tested for COVID-19 came back positive.

“Since we’re not set up to quarantine all those inmates, we had to contract with other jails for space,” West said. “They helped us out and we had to send 16 inmates out to be quarantined.”

West said there’s no way to know if those cases originated from Oklahoma County Detention Center.

“We transferred other people around from other jails, too,” West said. “So there’s a possibility those cases got in from other jails as well.”

Oklahoma County Detention Center notifies all transport officers about positive detainees at the time of transport, OCDC programs and services coordinator Mac Mullings said.

“We have no way of knowing definitively if the detainee has come in contact with someone who is positive, and that is not something that is covered by the HIPAA [Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act] exception,” Mullings said.

OCDC does not contact other detention facilities regarding detainees released from their custody, Mullings said.

“The only incident that sounds like this one was a facility that contacted OCDC and indicated that a detainee self-reported to the new facility that he or she had come into contact with someone who was allegedly positive,” Mullings said.

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©2020 The Norman Transcript (Norman, Okla.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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