COVID-Positive Jail Population Drops Slightly After Month-Long Surge

Cook County inmates with COVID climbed for more than four weeks before reaching a Friday peak of 267. By Sunday evening, the figure was 227.

A Cook County sheriff’s deputy walks along the perimeter of the Cook County Jail. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ
A Cook County sheriff’s deputy walks along the perimeter of the Cook County Jail. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ

COVID-Positive Jail Population Drops Slightly After Month-Long Surge

Cook County inmates with COVID climbed for more than four weeks before reaching a Friday peak of 267. By Sunday evening, the figure was 227.

The number of Cook County Jail inmates “currently positive” for COVID-19 seems to be leveling off after a month-long surge that reached a peak on Friday.

As of Sunday evening, 227 jail inmates and 72 correctional officers were COVID-positive, according to Sheriff Tom Dart’s office. The inmates include five admitted to local hospitals.

The COVID-positive inmates peaked at 267 on Friday before dropping on both Saturday and Sunday. The number began a fast climb in early November after hovering in the low double digits for five months.

Since the pandemic’s start, eight inmates and four correctional officers have died from the coronavirus, according to Dart’s office. They include detainee Harold Graszer, 85, who passed away after his transfer to Stroger Hospital on Nov. 16.

Dart himself was infected this month. A statement from his office Saturday said he began to feel symptoms on Nov. 20, that he “immediately self-quarantined,” and that he was at home recovering. His office did not have an update on his condition Sunday.

Little more than a week before coming down with the illness, Dart pleaded with the community and leaders of other government units for help slowing the virus’s spread in the jail. Then he suspended in-person visitations at the jail as COVID-19 infections surged inside the facility.

This spring, the jail had one of the largest COVID-19 outbreaks in the country, a distinction that brought Dart unwanted attention from media outlets including the New York Times.

Attorneys for detainees filed a federal class-action lawsuit that forced the sheriff to take extra steps to prevent the virus’s transmission. Dart insisted his office was on top of the problem and that the court intervention was counterproductive.

Dart and other officials, meanwhile, took steps to reduce the number of jail inmates.

By Friday, however, they had allowed the detained population to increase to 5,432, nearly its pre-pandemic level.

At the county’s Juvenile Temporary Detention Center, meanwhile, at least 63 residents had tested positive for the virus as of Wednesday, according to Chief Judge Timothy Evans’ office. Those include at least 23 during the previous month.

The virus has also hit JTDC staff members hard. At least 73 who work at that West Side facility have been reported to have tested positive during the pandemic, including at least 19 over the last month.

Chip Mitchell reports out of WBEZ’s West Side studio about policing. Follow him at @ChipMitchell1. Contact him at cmitchell@wbez.org.

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