By SCOTT COTTOS
Places where large gatherings of people and foot traffic cannot be prevented include incarceration facilities.
The population of the Hancock and Wood county jails has not been struck by the coronavirus, and those who oversee those places are trying to keep it that way.
“It’s been interesting,” said Lt. Ryan Kidwell, administrator of the Hancock County Jail. “Of course, for us, what’s most important on the administrative perspective is making sure we’re protecting staff and we’re protecting inmates we’re responsible for. We’re just making sure we have protocols to try to keep it out of here. If we can keep it out of here, that’s a win.”
While each facility may have particular ways of doing things, some commonalities exist in maintaining the welfare of those within the walls of the buildings.
“When (the widespread nature of the virus) came to light a few weeks ago, we started off by requiring all of our employees to take their temperatures before they came to work,” Wood County Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn said. “Then we acquired a few more thermometers and we not only asked them to check their temperatures before they came to work, but we’re now checking everyone’s temperature when they arrive at work, just for checks and balances.”
Said Kidwell: “One of the things we’re going to be implementing is every staff member and every inmate that enters our facility will be required to have a forehead temperature taken and they’ll have to complete a questionnaire, which ensures they don’t have a respiratory illness right now, they haven’t traveled to a Level 3 country, which, typically, are across seas, and they haven’t been around anybody as far as being exposed or in direct contact with somebody who has confirmed coronavirus.
“Confirmed means it would have to be medically confirmed by a doctor, a licensed nurse practitioner or a physician’s assistant. And that includes anyone they may live with, as far as spouse, children, family, friends, those types of things, just to assure we understand, one, where they’ve been and what their medical situation is with temperature and respiratory; and then, two, who they’ve been around as far as, do they have fevers or do they have respiratory (problems), where they possibly could have been exposed to those situations.”
The intermingling of inmates is being restricted in both jails.
“So we’re able to segregate the inmates, we check every inmate coming in, including whoever’s transporting them into the jail,” Wasylyshyn said. “Whenever another law-enforcement entity brings someone to the jail, we’re asking questions as far as if they’ve been exposed to anyone.
“There’s a set of questions we ask, protocol-wise, to see if they’ve been exposed to the virus, and we’re checking everyone’s temperature. Our medical staff, of course, is thoroughly checking the inmates, and we’re taking new inmates coming into the facility and segregating them into the area to kind of keep them together so they don’t mix in with other inmates who have been here a longer period of time to try to slow the spread of the virus through the jail.”
The situation is similar in Hancock County.
“What we’re looking at now is those who have been here, back from today, 14 days, and keeping them separate from those coming in and keeping those coming in segregated for at least a 14-day process so we have chances to evaluate them and see what happens with them over the course of that 14 days if they’re still here,” Kidwell said.
“We’re also separating those who could be what we call vulnerable populations. What I mean by that is those that are already dealing with some type of a medical issue that could be critical if they were to catch the coronavirus — someone with heart conditions, pregnancy, those types of things.”
Both jails have been able to reduce the inmate population — and, hence, the threat of infection — with assistance from the county courts.
“We have been working with the courts and other law enforcement in the county,” Wasylyshn said. “Thanks to the judges. (They) have adjusted on who needs to come to jail and they’ve also re-evaluated inmates who are in jail, so our numbers are down to 133 inmates as of this morning and that is easily 30 less inmates than what we normally have, if not higher than that, and I expect that number to keep going down.”
Wasylyshyn said he doesn’t recall having fewer than 133 inmates in the 224-bed jail since he took office in 2005.
Hancock County in the past has been able to solve overcrowding in its 82-bed jail by sending excess inmates to Putnam, Wood or Van Wert, but those counties have recently cut off its reception of new prisoners.
The courts have helped get Hancock County’s inmate population to 82 as of Monday.
“We’re working with our local courts directly, looking at who’s here, looking at what’s available as far as our bed capacity and trying to trend back down,” Kidwell said. “Those who are not a threat to community safety — (we are) looking at is there an alternative to move them outside of the facility, whether it be through an early release or maybe probation, something like that?
“We aren’t (full) at the moment because we’ve had some releases. We have several that are still out of county.”
Both jails, like everyone else in the country, is facing an equipment crunch, though Wasylyshyn noted that his department recently received a donation of thermometers from an area school district.
Both officials are well aware that what’s happening today may be far different even the next day.
“With coronavirus, there’s a lot of information that’s popping into us constantly,” Kidwell said. “That information is very fluid. It’s ever-changing. It has slowed down some since a week ago. We’re just trying to pay very close attention to those directives or things that are coming in to us.”
Seneca County Jail Administrator Joseph Panuto did not return a voicemail left seeking comment.