Inmates in the Bonneville County Jail are growing anxious over concerns that the coronavirus, which is estimated to have killed at least 158,522 people in the United States, may be in the jail.
Dr. Jeff Keller, medical director for the Bonneville County Jail, said there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the jail, but that some inmates have been quarantined due to symptoms.
"As far as I know, we have no cases in the jail," Keller said.
The doctor added, however, that the virus would inevitably make its way into the jail population.
Fears of outbreaks in Idaho's jails and prisons have been reinforced after multiple inmates in Twin Falls and Ada Counties were discovered to be infected.
According to Boise State Public Radio, the first case in the Twin Falls County Jail was discovered in early July. The jail then tested all of its inmates and staff and found half the jail population, 125 inmates, had already been infected.
Multiple inmates have contacted the Post Register to say they had requested to be tested for COVID-19 but were denied.
Cody Lodmell, who is in Bonneville County Jail serving time for felony possession of a controlled substance, said 14 inmates including himself had requested to be tested and were denied. He said jail staff first told them there were not enough tests, then said they had to show specific symptoms to qualify for testing.
Dick Lodmell, Cody Lodmell's father, told the Post Register his son was briefly removed from the jail's general population after he showed symptoms of the virus but was returned when the jail determined his symptoms did not warrant testing.
In March, Keller told the Post Register jails were particularly vulnerable during the pandemic due to the close proximity inmates have with each other. Bonneville County Jail inmates live in "pods" of around 60 inmates, sharing a living space and sleeping in bunk beds.
Keller would not confirm or deny whether inmates had requested testing. He said the jail staff does not have a shortage of COVID-19 tests, but that testing is limited based on the time it takes to process the test. Keller said a test may take up to two weeks to process.
One inmate, Jonathan Rawson, claimed in a letter to the editor he had been placed on suicide watch in a room with another inmate who had shown symptoms of the virus, including fever and shortness of breath.
"I don't know if he had the virus or not, but I should not have been put in a room with someone in quarantine," the letter said.
Both Keller and Jail Captain Brian Covert expressed strong skepticism that the jail would place an inmate on suicide watch in a room with another inmate, as inmates on suicide watch are typically isolated. Keller suggested he may have been in the same area of the jail as a quarantined inmate but that they would not have shared a living space.
Inmates also expressed concern to the Post Register about how the virus was affecting their sentences. Transportation of inmates between jails and prisons has been disrupted out of concern of spreading the virus from one facility to another.
Lodmell and other inmates said those who have been sentenced are serving their sentences in the county jail as a result, rather than a state prison.
Levi Johnson, who is awaiting sentencing for burglary, said the rider program, which has inmates undergo programs to reduce recidivism rates, has been unavailable to inmates during the pandemic.
Keller and Covert both said the jail had been in regular contact with Eastern Idaho Public Health about protecting inmates in the jail, and that they were following guidelines laid out by the Center for Disease Control.
Covert said new arrivals are being isolated from the general population for 14 days after being brought to the jail. He said 60 inmates are in isolation as new arrivals, put into groups based on when they arrived. Most of those groups include around 10 inmates, Covert said, with the largest having 20 inmates.
Five inmates are in quarantine as of Thursday after they either showed symptoms of the virus or had contact with somebody with the virus.
Covert said the situation was not ideal but said it was the best option with the jail's facilities.
"In a perfect world we would have 500 individual cells for quarantine," Covert said.
"It's a very tough environment, running a jail during the pandemic," Covert added. "The whole nation is struggling with this, and those problems are compounded in a jail."