COOK COUNTY, Ill. - In-person visits at the Cook County Jail will resume Sunday, exactly a year after Sheriff Tom Dart first announced those visits were on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Dart’s office announced Friday.
Only vaccinated inmates will be eligible, and for only two in-person visits per week, which will be held in large, outdoor tents, the sheriff’s office said. Visitors will submit to temperature checks before entering the jail, and social distancing and mask use will be enforced.
Video visitation will remain available for all inmates, Dart’s office said.
"The decision to resume in-person visitations is part of the Sheriff’s Office’s ongoing efforts to balance the need to protect detainees and staff from COVID with the need to provide individuals in custody opportunities to maintain relationships with their loved ones," the sheriff’s office said in a statement.
The Cook County Jail was the site of major coronavirus outbreaks in the spring and winter, but as of March 11, only 14 current detainees had tested positive for the coronavirus, out of a total population of about 5,500, according to the sheriff’s office website.
Furthermore, the number of positive cases has stayed below 20 every day for the past two weeks, the sheriff’s office said.
Throughout the pandemic, advocates have called for the release of vulnerable inmates and those held on low-level charges. Officials brought the population down to about 4,000 during the spring, but by November, with the country seeing another spike in cases, in-person visits were canceled for a second time and the jail population was back to pre-pandemic levels.
Since the start of the pandemic, over 1,300 inmates at the jail have tested positive for COVID-19, and 10 have died, according to the sheriff’s office website. Among sheriff’s office staff, 1,155 employees have contracted the virus, and four have died.
Those wishing to schedule 30-minute jail visits can do so online starting Sunday.