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Pilsen, Little Village, West Loop

200 Detainees And Cook County Jail Staffers Test Positive For Coronavirus

Sheriff Tom Dart is using old boot camp barracks to isolate detainees as civil rights groups call for more detainees to be freed.

Inside a unit at the Cook County Jail.
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LITTLE VILLAGE — More than 200 Cook County Jail detainees and jail staffers have tested positive for coronavirus, the sheriff’s office confirmed.

As of Wednesday night, 167 detainees have tested positive and 34 jail staffers have tested positive — 201 people total. The virus has spread rapidly at the jail that houses 5,000 inmates, as the first two cases were confirmed a little more than a week ago.

Twelve of the detainees who have contracted the virus have been hospitalized at Cermak Hospital, the jail’s medical center run by Cook County Health.

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

So far, 19 detainees have been confirmed negative.

The Sheriff’s Office is working to increase sanitation to help control the spread of the disease and has also been reorganizing the jail to promote social distancing. The jail is transitioning the majority of detainees to single cells to prevent transmission, with the exception of individuals with mental illness that may be exacerbated by isolation, Sheriff Tom Dart said at a press conference last week.

Dart also reopened a barracks facility that had once housed a boot camp program. The 500-bed facility will be used to isolate detainees who have tested positive for coronavirus.

As the virus continues to spread, civil rights advocates are calling for the mass release of detainees at the jail, the vast majority of whom have not been convicted of a crime and are presumed innocent. The situation at the jail has become a rallying cry for attorneys nationwide, who are sharing emergency motions with each other to get their clients freed.

The Chicago Community Bond Fund continues to sharply criticize the Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart and State’s Attorney Kim Foxx for not acting swiftly enough to reduce the jail population, especially for detainees who have been cleared for pretrial release by a judge but can’t afford bond.

The bond fund is leading a campaign encouraging residents to call the state’s attorney, the sheriff’s office, and the office of Chief Judge Timothy Evans to demand they work to dramatically reduce the jail population and increase health protections for detainees.

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.

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

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