CDC: Cook County Jail is a model for COVID-19 control

Sheriff Tom Dart was livid in April when the New York Times described the Cook County Jail as one of the nation's top COVID hotspots.

But as of Wednesday -- with a jail population of 4,800 -- fewer than a dozen inside the jail have the virus.

“In spite of all the insanity going on and in spite of some of the reckless things that were being said in the media, we stuck with science. We stuck with science from day one,” Dart said.

Through April, 900 detainees at the Cook County Jail had tested positive for the coronavirus.

“At that time, we were the only ones testing anyone, so of course we were going to have the highest numbers,” Dart said.

But now, that number is down to just 11 inmates.

“And of those eleven, 8 or 9 of them came in positive from the outside. So the impactfulness of what was done here cannot be underestimated,” Dart said.

In a new study, the CDC credits the jail for getting ahead of the curb on testing and then sticking with it.

Detainees are not only tested during in-take, but also before being allowed in the general population.

“This is proven to be a very important part of our containment and no other jail in the country that we know of is doing this type of testing,” said Dr. Connie Mennella.

Masks are required for staff and employees, and early on, the population was strategically dispersed to unused cellblocks.

But while Dart says coronavirus is officially "contained," it is no time to take the foot of the gas.

“With the violence in the city, our population is going up. That's concerning to us cause that makes it more difficult for social distancing,” he said.

Since the start of the pandemic, there have been seven COVID-19-related deaths among jail detainees and Dart says as long as the virus is here in the community, it poses a threat to the jail and that all discussed measures will remain in place.