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Cluster strikes Cottonwood Falls

Staff writer

A detention center once considered a model for Marion County is dealing with a cluster of 29 confirmed COVID-19 cases.

The Chase County Health Department said positive cases at Chase County Detention Center are all men.

They include 27 detainees between the ages of 21 and 67 and two staff members older than 23.

By Tuesday afternoon, the health department announced three new cases of COVID-19 in the county but declined to give the ages or genders of patients.

County health officer Carol Coirier said the department would not offer comment beyond its press release.

Jail administrator Larry Sigler said the 148-capacity detention center had been “drained down to half full” in March because of COVID-19 concerns.

About 68 inmates were returned to Sedgwick and Douglas counties. The jail now houses 87, he said.

The Chase County detention center has served U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement since 2008.

“We have no local inmates affected with COVID at this time,” Sigler said.

Representatives from ICE did not respond to inquiries about the infection status or number of detainees.

Inmates were being placed together based on their infection status, Sigler said.

“We have KDHE involved and we will be testing repeatedly,” he said.

The COVID-19 infections are the second time in a year Chase County has dealt with an outbreak of contagious illness. Last summer, ICE confirmed a detainee had mumps and said at least 22 other inmates could have been exposed.

The struggles in Chase County are a far cry from 2004, when the $4 to 5 million detention center was considered a model of success by Marion County leaders looking to replace a their own woefully inadequate facility.

The sheriff’s department considered “farming out” inmates to Chase County at a cost of $86,000 a year. The county hired consultants for a feasibility study of a jail large enough to accept out-of-county inmates.

In November 2008, voters rejected a 1% sales tax for a 77-bed, $8.65 million center, later opting instead to approve a smaller sales tax for a 36-bed jail at a cost of $3.5 million.

Marion County jailers weathered their own COVID-19 crisis when an employee tested positive last month. Law enforcement jailed only suspects they deemed must be.

Undersheriff David Huntley says the jail has 13 or 14 inmates now, which he deemed “at capacity for the staff we have.”

Inmates are monitored for 10 days when detained, and staff are careful to wear masks in certain areas.

“Now we bring in just about anybody within reason,” he said. “We are not actively rounding up a bunch of warrants, but we will if we need to.”

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Last modified Aug. 5, 2020

 

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