3 minute read

Greg Williams, Oklahoma County Jail administrator, said Tuesday at the end of the workday that the numbers we got from his communications team about Oklahoma County Jail COVID positive tests were “good right now, but that will change, probably in the next hour.”

His point was to caution that the entire situation is fast-moving and fluid as they attempt to keep up with current testing demand and catch up from a backlog of testing that needs to be done.

As an illustration of how easily things can change, Williams told Free Press by phone, “we’ve got 70 [tests], though, right now that we’ve got in the refrigerator that will probably be sent off later tonight.” As soon as those tests are completed that would change the number.

Positives Tuesday

The report we received from the PIO at the end of Tuesday was that there were:

  • 44 detainees in the jail who have tested positive for COVID-19
  • 21 detention staff who have either tested positive or self-reported and three of that number are in serious condition
  • 3 medical staff who have tested positive.

But, getting caught up on testing is the biggest concern for Williams now.

Backlog

He said their policy is to test everyone who comes in. Then, when detainees are transferred to other jails, their administrators want a test done before the detainee is moved.

On top of that, Oklahoma County Judges require the detainees who make a court appearance to get test results back first to protect court personnel and visitors to the courthouse.

Williams said that when he took over the jail at the end of June there was a backlog of tests that needed to be given.

“So, I started off with 2,000 inmates that needed to be tested and … 500 a week coming in,” said Williams. “So, you know, over the last month, we’ve gained … 3,000 inmates who have come in, less the 2,000 that were already here. So I was 5,000 tests behind.”

Williams said the are making progress as they gear up to test those who are coming in and catch up with tests that need doing.

Transition

The Jail Trust hired Williams to run the day-to-day operations of the towering 13-story building at 201 N. Shartel starting July 1 with a handoff from Sheriff P.D. Taylor.

The Oklahoma County Sheriff’s office now is focused solely on its law enforcement and court duties without the jail being in the Sheriff’s portfolio.

It’s not hard to find residents and members of the Jail Trust who believe the building was doomed even at the design stage before building began. It opened in 1991 and has had consistent problems since the first month.

Plan to contain spread

But, past building mistakes were really not on Williams’ mind Tuesday as he works to keep up with current demands from various courts and other counties to get testing done before detainees leave his building destined for court appearances and other county jails.

And, he’s trying to keep the coronavirus from spreading throughout the population and staff.

One way is to quarantine those who have tested positive. But, they don’t have enough cells for their population to single-cell a detainee who has tested positive.

He said the best they can do is to put two people who have tested positive into the same cell and only let them out for showers, exercise, and recreation with their cell mate not the entire pod which is around 30 to 50 people.

“Right now we put all the positive people together,” said Williams. “And that way they can, you know, have better access to medical and medical staff can interact with them and we can use more precaution.”

“So, anytime a staff person would enter that pod, they wear full gear, gowns and gloves and masks, shields and the whole setup just to try to protect our staff as well.”

The testing and how to get caught up is the big issue now. “It’s just a matter of math,” said Williams.

“Even if you get a guy to comply with a 15 minute test, if you’re doing 100 of those a day that’s a lot of time committed just to that,” Williams said.


Sustain our journalism by becoming a supporter

Oklahoma City Free Press is dedicated to providing high quality journalism that positively impacts our community. Click this linkto support our mission.