Inverness Jail outbreak increases; local, state health officials review recommendations

February 11, 2021

Regional Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Vines joined Corrections Health Director Dr. Michael Seale and Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese today to provide an update on cases of COVID-19  among adults in custody at Inverness Jail.

As of Feb. 10, 145 adults in custody have tested positive for COVID-19 and 94 individuals remain in isolation. 

Almost all those individuals remain asymptomatic or report mild symptoms. One individual with underlying health conditions was hospitalized and later returned to custody. There have been no deaths. Another 139 individuals who had been exposed to the virus remained in quarantine after testing negative for the virus.

The surge in cases has concerned officials, coming after 10 months with just a handful of individual cases among adults in custody, almost all detected at booking. In all of 2020, staff conducted 194 tests for COVID and identified 22 positive cases in those in custody between Inverness and the Multnomah County Detention Center. Corrections Health has conducted 900 COVID-19 tests so far in 2021, resulting in 145 positive cases at Inverness, which faces particular challenges because of its large, open dorm design.

“With over a decade of experience working as a health officer and responding to many outbreaks in many settings, I can’t imagine a more complex mix of factors,” said Health Officer Vines. “A virus that spreads very easily, a settings with spacing and staffing constraints and an environment that is disciplinary, with understandably low levels of trust among adults in custody and those charged with their care.”

Multnomah County’s Public Health Division has worked alongside Corrections Health and the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office to respond to the outbreak, which began Jan. 5. A Communicable Disease Services team has been on site; The County has consulted with the Oregon Health Authority and conducted its own internal reviews, Vines said. 

“We are doing everything we can to slow and hopefully stop the spread of this virus,” she said.

Those protocols include screening people before booking and screening before housing. Daily screening for all individuals for the first 14 days in custody and daily symptom screening for individuals at higher risk, including people 60 and older or with certain health conditions, such as cancer or diabetes.

Employee screening protocols follow guidelines set out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, requiring each employee to affirm prior to beginning each shift that they have had no symptoms within 24 hours, no contact with a known COVID-19 case within 14 days and they have a normal temperature.

Corrections Health has refined its respiratory disease outbreak protocol to include regular communications to staff, rapid antigen tests, cohorted housing based on test results, and housing of ill individuals in respiratory isolation. Negative airflow medical housing units are used for those with more significant symptoms and monitored by nurses around the clock.

Information is posted in Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese, Russian. We provide Medical interpretation as well. The Health Department has also provided a list of resources Corrections Health can use to link people and their families to mental health services. We know this is a very difficult time for for AICs, their families and staff

“We appreciate the support and coordination we’ve had from public health,” said Dr. Seale. “This has really helped guide our process.”

Public Health and Corrections Health began vaccinations at Inverness jail on Feb. 2, when 108 people who tested negative for COVID-19 received a first dose. Vaccinations resume today, with plans to administered another 100 doses to those who have already expressed interest in the vaccine.

Corrections Health has a list of individuals with risk factors to prioritize for future vaccination, and plans to shift its efforts to the Multnomah County Detention Center once everyone at Inverness Jail has had the option to receive a vaccine.

Sheriff Reese also noted the immense demands on staff throughout the pandemic.

 “I want to acknowledge the hard work and sacrifice by the men and women who provide for the safety and health of everyone in our jail facilities,’’ Reese said. “While many professions have switched to teleworking options during the pandemic, our employees continue their essential in-person work. They risk their personal safety and the health of their families in service to this community. They deserve the communities thanks for a job well done during these tumultuous times.’’