BREAKING: Four New COVID Cases Detected at King County Jail

by Carolyn Bick

Four new cases of COVID-19 have been detected at the King County Jail in downtown Seattle, according to an internal email shared with the Emerald on Jan. 4.

The email says that jail staff detected the outbreak on the morning of Jan. 2, when one person jailed at the facility tested positive. Jail staff subsequently tested other people jailed in the same unit, and found three more infected individuals by that afternoon. The email says that all four people were “inmate-workers” held in the same unit that saw an outbreak of COVID-19 among 16 jailed individuals in early December, which marked the jail’s first transmission of the virus from within the jail. These four new cases would appear to bring the total reported number of COVID-19 cases within the King County Jail system to 115, since the total number of reported cases previously stood at 111 as of Dec. 31, 2020, according to the email.

The email does not say what symptoms the inmates who tested positive had, or what prompted health officials to test for the disease on Jan. 2, in the first place. The email says that the four people who tested positive have been moved to medical isolation at the Maleng Regional Justice Center (MRJC) in Kent, and that inmates who have had “close contact” with those who tested positive have been put into quarantine. It also says that Public Health – Seattle & King County officials are still working on contact tracing amongst inmates, jail staff, and visitors.

The Emerald followed up with King County Jail’s communications specialist Noah Haglund to ask why jail health staff tested for the disease on Jan. 2, and has asked about the ages of the newly infected people. It also asked how people who came into close contact with the infected individuals have been quarantined, and how many have been quarantined.

Haglund responded to the Emerald on Jan. 6. In his email back to the Emerald, he also indicated that a new case had been detected at the MRJC on Jan. 2, but that no new cases had been detected as of Jan. 6.

Haglund said there are 37 incarcerated people in quarantine at the MRJC and 22 incarcerated people in quarantine at the King County Jail.

“The inmates at MRJC are in individual cells, those at [the King County Jail] in group settings of three to four per unit. The inmates in the group quarantine were housed together in the same small groups prior to being placed on quarantine status,” Haglund said.

Haglund said that what prompted officials to test for the virus in the first place was “someone who experienced flu-like symptoms and tested positive after screening.” In a later email on Jan. 8, Haglund said that the people who tested positive in this most recent outbreak were between the ages of 32 and 42.

Carolyn Bick is a journalist and photographer based in South Seattle. You can reach them here, and check out more of their work here and here.

Featured image of the King County Court House by Joe Mabel from Wikimedia Commons.