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More Than 100 Cook County Jail Detainees Test Positive For Coronavirus

Twelve jail staffers have also tested positive for the virus.

Faith leaders gather at Cook County Jail to seek the release of detainees to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Chicago Community Bond Fund
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CHICAGO — More than 100 Cook County Jail detainees and 12 jail staffers have tested positive for coronavirus, the sheriff’s office confirmed.

As of Sunday night, 101 detainees had tested positive and 12 employees at the jail have tested positive for coronavirus. The virus has spread rapidly at the jail that houses 5,000 inmates, as the first two cases were confirmed just a week ago.

A detainee at home being electronically monitored by the sheriff’s office has also tested positive, officials said Friday.

Nine detainees have been confirmed negative for the virus and the results of 93 tests are still pending. Cermak Hospital, housed in Cook County Jail, is testing any detainee who shows symptoms of COVID-19.

On Friday, Sheriff Tom Dart said the jail was working with the State’s Attorney and the Public Defender’s Office to reduce the population at the jail to help control the spread of the virus. At that time, Dart said about 30 pretrial detainees were being released each day.

Non-violent pretrial defendants will be eligible for release. Women who are pregnant, older adults and people with underlying health conditions who are at risk of developing a severe illness due to COVID-19 will be prioritized, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said.

An open letter penned by the Chicago Community Bond Fund and cosigned by over 100 civil rights organizations, legal aid groups and prison reform advocates demanded all detainees cleared for release on bond be freed immediately since they are presumed innocent under the Constitution. Despite calls for mass decarceration in the jail, Dart said over 70 percent of detainees are not eligible for release because they are accused of violent crimes.

“The population in the jail as of today, about 70 to 75 percent, in that range, people are in on a violent charge,” Dart said. “Those are people that we can’t keep the community safe by releasing them.”

Attorneys are also sharing emergency motions and prison reform groups are paying bonds to get more detainees freed.

Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.

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