First Jail Health Services Employee at King County Jail Tests Positive for COVID-19

by Carolyn Bick

A jail health services (JHS) employee at the King County Correctional Facility in Seattle has tested positive for COVID-19, according to an official Public Health – Seattle & King County letter the Emerald received from an anonymous source. The employee is the first JHS staffer to test positive.

The letter says that the employee, who is not named, tested positive on July 15 and that this person last worked on July 14. The letter also states that the public health department has started contact tracing for “any person who may have had prolonged contact with this employee and will notify those individuals directly.”

It does not state whether or not this includes people who are currently detained in the facility.

UPDATE: In an email to the Emerald, the health department’s Public Information Officer James Apa said that “no patients in the jail were exposed, and we are taking appropriate precautions with staff who were.”

However, he did not share whether or not patients in the jail came into contact with other staffers who had come into direct contact with the JSH employee who tested positive. When the Emerald followed up with this question, Apa replied that “[i]f we identify any new cases connected to this staff member, we’ll work to ensure that any close contacts they had are identified and tested as well.”

The Emerald has also asked how long the department expects contact tracing to take. Given that there is increasing evidence that the novel coronavirus is airborne, the Emerald has also asked if the jail is equipped with air filtration systems like HVAC or HEPA, as suggested for office buildings by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The Emerald has also reached out to the jail for comment, and will update this story as more information becomes available.

Carolyn Bick is a journalist and photographer based in South Seattle. You can reach them here and here.