Inmates concerned as COVID-19 spreads through Cook County Jail

Female Cook County inmates say there is only one hand sanitizer dispenser in their unit and no other means of protection.

But the Cook County Sheriff’s Office says there’s more cleaning supplies and hygiene products than ever before.

Still, inmates and their family members say they are worried about COVID-19 spreading.

Just about everyone coming out of the jail Thursday had a mask on, as 167 detainees have coronavirus and 14 are in the hospital. Also, 46 members of the Cook County Sheriff’s Department are infected.

On the inside of Cook County Jail, FOX 32 spoke with three female inmates in Division 8 in the Medical Unit.

“People feel like they are going to lose their life and we feel like they are not doing enough [to prevent the virus from spreading],” said Shante Bell, a Cook County detainee.

The three women face serious charges and do not fall under the guidelines for release during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We were exposed to these two women, because we were in a dorm. Other people have been showing signs of the COVID-19,” said Angelina Johnson, an inmate at Cook County Jail.

Johnson says there are 39 women in one large room, and it’s impossible to social distance.

“There are only five tables we are sitting at, the same top tables, and we actually only have two stalls,” said Johnson. “I fear I am going to die. It’s going to affect me. I’m on the steroid Albuterol.”

Last week, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said inmates were being protected from the coronavirus given the circumstances.

“We are giving soap to everybody. We are putting hand sanitizer in living units,” Dart said.

Sheriff Dart’s office insisted that inmates are getting ample cleaning supplies. They also sent the following statement:

“Detainees are provided ample cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer and soap. They have greater access to cleaning supplies and hygiene products than ever before, and if they run out, more will be provided. In addition, staff are provided with cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer, and gloves, and are provided a hotline to request more supplies.

Any detainee who shows symptoms of the virus is tested by staff at Cermak Health Services. Detainees who do not show symptoms are not tested, as per the CDC guidelines.

The Sheriff’s Office has taken extraordinary measures to prevent the spread of the virus, including standing up a 500-bed quarantine unit off the main campus of the jail where detainees positive with COVID-19 can be treated away from the rest of the jail population. Every new detainee is screened for the virus and their temperature is taken prior to booking, and any detainee that shows symptoms is isolated and sent for medical treatment. New detainees are held in special receiving tiers for their first 7 days where they can be observed for symptoms before being placed in general population, and all detainees who are discharged are also screened for the virus and their temperatures are taken. We have also placed as many detainees as possible in single cells to reduce the chance of transmission.

We also have two renowned sanitarians we brought on for just this purpose.

We also take the temperature of all staff entering to prevent it inadvertently being brought in by staff.”

Tracy Johnson has been in jail since 2017. She’s accused of trying to kill her 5-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son in Hoffman Estates. She described her experience inside Cook County Jail.

“ …stuck here in this one room where we are all going to get the coronavirus,” said Johnson. “We are coming in contact with staff who work with infected inmates and infected staff members.”

The sheriff’s office said they would send FOX 32 video of the cleaning supplies in the women’s unit, but we never received it.

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