ELKTON - None of the 258 inmates currently in the Cecil County Detention Center officially had the coronavirus, as of Wednesday afternoon, and jail officials have increased restrictions and added policies to keep it that way, according to Maj. Mary Allen, director of the CCDC.
The only people allowed to enter the detention center now are correctional officers, contracted employees on the kitchen and medical staffs and defense lawyers scheduled to meet with their jailed clients, Allen said. Before they are permitted to enter, however, the workers and lawyers are screened, she added.
"Their temperatures are taken to see if they have a fever, and they are asked health screening questions," Allen explained.
Jail officials are working in partnership with the Cecil County Office of the Public Defender to set up a system in which defense lawyers can interview their jailed clients, in preparation for their criminal hearings and trials, remotely on Skype, she noted.
Allen also reported that any new inmate who enters the detention center is quarantined for seven days in one area of the jail and then moved to another area of the jail for an additional seven-day quarantine, before they can be cleared to move into general population.
Also, as part of a statewide precaution, the transfer of inmates from county detention centers, including CCDC, to Maryland Division of Corrections prisons has been halted, to prevent possible exposure to the virus, Allen reported.
Approximately 75 workers enter the CCDC every day, including a minimum of 11 correctional officers per three shifts, members of the command staff and five workers each on the contracted food services staff and the contracted medical staff, according to Allen. The CCDC has several units.
On March 13, officials stopped all detention center visits by inmates' families and friends, she said. In addition, Allen added, all inmate programs - including educational and religious - conducted by outside members of the community have been suspended.
"The coronavirus doesn't move on its own. The coronavirus moves through people interacting with people, so you have to limit the number of people who can enter the detention center and you have to screen them before doing so," explained Sheriff Scott Adams, whose office oversees detention center operations.
Within the detention center, movement by inmates has been restricted to their assigned tiers, she reported. Along those lines, according to Allen, inmates can no longer use the indoor recreation center, which is set up for basketball and other activities, because prisoners from all tiers had access to that area - until COVID-19 prompted the restriction.
The layout of the detention center creates structural barriers between groups of inmates, and jail officials are using that compartmentalization to their advantage - now and should an inmate test positive for the coronavirus, she said.
Allen described the layout this way: There are four cellblocks in the CCDC, each with two tiers - an upper one and a lower one. There are eight cells on each tier, and every cell houses two inmates - translating to 16 inmates per tier, 32 per block.
As a result, with the new policies limiting inmate movement inside the detention center, inmates are restricted to their tiers, meaning there are a total of 128 inmates essentially isolated into eight groups of 16. Each tier has a dayroom, where the 16 inmates assigned to that particular tier can play cards and boardgames, watch television, call friends and family on phones and so forth.
"They're not on lockdown," Allen said, adding, "They just cannot move throughout the rest of the detention center."
In addition to the four blocks designed to house a total of 128 male inmates - isolated now into eight tier groups of 16 - there is a separate unit with 32 beds for female inmates. Also, there is a separate Community Corrections unit with 124 beds, where inmates in the work release program sleep.
And there is a separate 40-bed direct supervision unit, which is similar to an "honors tier," according to Allen, who explained that those inmates had been rewarded for their good conduct with jobs inside the detention center on the cleaning and kitchen staffs.
Should an inmate somehow contract COVID-19, that inmate and his fellow inmates on that tier would be moved to a designated, isolated area in the detention center, where they would be medically treated and monitored, Allen outlined.
An inmate with COVID-19 would be taken to a hospital only if deemed necessary by the medical staff, because officials would want to avoid moving such an inmate through the detention center, then into public and, at some point, back into the jail again.
There also is a contingency plan in the event that several inmates are diagnosed with COVID-19, according to Allen.
Should there be "an outbreak" inside the detention center, inmates who tested positive for the coronavirus would be moved into the Community Corrections unit, which has 124 beds, and unaffected inmates would be moved into the jail's general population.
Allen told the Cecil Whig that, for several decades, long before COVID-19 surfaced, detention center officials have quarantined inmates - and continue to do so - for a variety of medical reasons, all of them unrelated to the coronavirus.
"On any given day, you could have five to 10 inmates isolated for medical observation," Allen said, adding, "We are always concerned for the health and safety of our correctional officers and for our staff and, of course, for our inmates."
Then Allen referred to the new CCDC restrictions and policies prompted by COVID-19 and commented, "But we've never faced a pandemic before."