Second CO from Ohio jail dies after contracting COVID-19
Horace Wayne Washington was a 25-year officer with Cuyahoga County
By Adam Ferrise
CLEVELAND, Ohio — A veteran Cuyahoga County Jail officer died Friday from the coronavirus, according to his family and the officer’s union.
Horace Wayne Washington, a 25-year officer, died about three weeks after testing positive for the virus and about a week after being hospitalized, his sister, Gwendolyn Washington, said.
“He was a free-hearted person,” his sister said. “He was kind to everyone. He was a community-oriented person. Everyone looked up to him and got along with him. If anyone had any problems, they’d go to him, and he’d help them out.”
Washington, 58, is the second corrections officer to die after contracting the virus. Gregory Clark, 46, died in July 2020 after a 45-day stay at the Cleveland Clinic. No inmates have died from the virus while in custody, according to county statistics.
Cuyahoga County spokeswoman Mary Louise Madigan did not respond to requests for comment on Washington’s death or to questions about the jail’s coronavirus protocols.
Adam Chaloupka, an attorney for the Ohio Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association union that represents corrections officers, said Washington was well-known and widely respected by colleagues.
“He was a great guy,” Chaloupka said. “He was really loved and respected by the officers. They’ve taken it pretty hard.”
Chaloupka said the union will ask county officials to put more coronavirus protocols in place for officers.
Coronavirus cases among inmates at the jail decreased during the past six months. As of Monday, the jail had no inmates with coronavirus, according to statistics released by the county.
Jail employees and officials with MetroHealth, who handle healthcare at the jail, worked to release some 900 inmates in March 2020 in preparation for controlling outbreaks of the virus in the jail.
Officers were given protective equipment, including N95 masks and shoe coverings, among other protocols. Cases spiked on Dec. 15, when 298 inmates tested positive for the virus. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine ordered about 50 National Guardsman to help staff the jail.
Since then, the number of inmates with coronavirus dwindled. At the same time, the number of inmates steadily rose from a low of 950 inmates in April 2020 to 1,676 on Monday.
MetroHealth spokesman Mike Tobin said coronavirus protocols have not changed since officials implemented certain strategies, such as isolating incoming inmates for two weeks, at the beginning of the pandemic.
Tobin said they’ve also started vaccinating some inmates who have requested it. As of Monday, 337 inmates received vaccinations at the jail, according to county statistics. He declined to say if the jail’s continuing spike in inmates has affected officials’ ability to control the virus.
Gwendolyn Washington said her brother grew up in Garfield Heights as the third of four siblings and the only boy. As a child, he looked out for his sisters and made sure teammates on his youth football team did the same.
Washington played football and ran track at John F. Kennedy High School in Cleveland, where he graduated in 1980, his sister said. He worked as a security guard for several companies before Cuyahoga County hired him as a corrections officer in 1996.
He had no children, but he spoiled his nieces and nephews, his sister said. Anytime they came home with good grades, Washington slipped them some cash, took them out to their favorite restaurant or bought them presents, she said.
He loved sports, particularly following the Browns, and traveled with friends to boxing matches and basketball and football games. He also loved cars and family barbecues, his sister said.
Gwendolyn Washington said her brother wanted to be a police officer, but later changed his mind and applied to be a corrections officer with a few of his friends.
“He really enjoyed the people he worked with,” Gwendolyn Washington said.
He worked at the main jail in downtown Cleveland, then was transferred to the Bedford Heights satellite office, where he worked until April at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. He was moved back downtown to help staff the jail, his sister said.
Gwendolyn Washington said her brother took coronavirus precautions, both at work and at home, seriously. He constantly cleaned his desk and bought extra disinfectant wipes and masks so he could sanitize surfaces and switch masks more often, his sister said.
He rarely went anywhere during the pandemic, other than work, she said. Horace Washington had reservations about getting the COVID-19 vaccinations, but he had told his sister in May that he planned on getting the vaccine the next chance he had.
On May 27, less than a week after he talked to his sister about getting vaccinated, he started feeling sick and lost his sense of taste. The next day, he tested positive for the virus, his sister said.
About a week later, his symptoms worsened. He lost his appetite, started vomiting regularly and noticed a decrease in his ability to hear, his sister said. He was put on a ventilator at the hospital, his sister said.
Gwendolyn Washington said her brother was relatively healthy, other than high blood pressure.
“We’re just trying to be strong,” she said. “I know that’s what he’d want.”
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