Coffee County Jail

The Coffee County Sheriff’s Department continues to protect the public and inmates as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

In May, three Coffee County Sheriff’s Department employees who share an apartment together tested positive for COVID-19. Since then the employees have made a full recovery and have been back to work in the last few weeks.

According to Chief Deputy Frank Watkins, they showed very few symptoms.

“They were for all intents and purposes, asymptomatic,” said Watkins. “When we talked to them they said they had allergies that were worse, which was good. I was glad it wasn’t as bad for them.”

Even with the employees making a full recovery, the sheriff’s department is still upholding visitation policies at the Justice Center based on the recommendations from the CDC as well as the Tennessee State Government

Watkins said, “They’re still not coming in to the lobby to do video visits because of the proximity of the visitation kiosks in that room and being able to clean them adequately between visits because of the time. There is only five minutes between each visit so that doesn’t give us adequate time to disinfect and sanitize the devices adequately to how we like to do it.”

Visitors are still able to visit remotely through the vendor that manages the visitation via tablet, smartphone or computer as long as there are camera and microphone capabilities.

When asked by The News if the jail is doing mass testing for inmates, Watkins said they are only testing inmates who show signs of symptoms.

“We were contacted by the state and were advised that they may be coming down to do some testing and we would oblige them if they chose to do that,” said Watkins.

Watkins said the state was doing a survey to see who would be willing do it on a county level and there is not set date.

“I know the state penitentiaries and those who are contracted by the state have done a lot, so when they called and asked if we would be available to do it we said we would be fine with that,” said Watkins

Watkins added the inmates have the right to refuse to do the testing.

“They still have the availability to refuse,” said Watkins. “They do not have the take the test and we cannot mandate they take the test over constitutionality issues.”

Watkins said no inmates in the jail have tested positive for COVID-19. They did have an inmate who was transferred to the jail from another state who did test positive but they were able to isolate the inmate from the general population.

“Due to our numbers, we have the availability of segregation in a pod,” said Watkins. “Basically he was segregated off until his test came back positive which was just a few days, so he was at the tail end of it when we received him.”

According to Watkins, the current population of the jail is 262. Watkins added that Coffee County was one of the few counties to manage a low population and not have to turn people out due to COVID-19.

“We didn’t do like some of the counties around that released a lot just because of COVID,” said Watkins.

As of writing, the number of COVID-19 cases in Coffee County is 125, with 27 active cases and 98 cases of recovered.

Kyle Murphy may be reached at kmurphy@tullahomanews.com.

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