FRONT ROYAL — After keeping COVID-19 at bay for weeks, a recent outbreak at the Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren County Regional Jail forced the hand of its leaders and the state to ramp up testing and containment efforts.
On Thursday, jail Superintendent Russ Gilkison told members of the jail’s authority board that the Virginia Department of Health and members of the National Guard will visit the jail today to perform a point prevalence survey — testing every inmate and staff member for COVID-19. Those results will be returned in about a week, Gilkison said.
Before the jail reported its first COVID-19 case on Tuesday, Gilkison moved to lock down the facility as much as possible to keep the virus from penetrating its walls. Physical visits were cut off and various programs that allowed inmates to leave the facility were ended.
Although the jail appeared to succeed in keeping cases out — the first confirmed case was caught before the inmate was booked and never made it into the general population — even the most strenuous precautions were never guaranteed to keep the pervasive virus at bay, Gilkison said.
Dozens of people come in and out of the facility for short stints on minor charges, Gilkison said. Someone who stays overnight for a drunk in public charge may not appear to be symptomatic but that is no guarantee they aren’t carrying the virus.
There are also still questions about how the virus spreads other than droplets spread into the air after coughing, sneezing and talking.
“We are not trying to put anyone in harm’s way intentionally,” Gilkison said. “We need people in the community to understand we are doing the best we can … there is no malicious intent to put their family members at risk or our staff at risk.”
As of Wednesday, the jail had 18 confirmed cases, though Gilkison said Thursday afternoon he expected more test results to come in that evening. Most of the positive results appear to have been localized to one pod but today’s point prevalence survey will provide more information about the jail’s hotspots, Gilkison said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown off day-to-day operations and hurt the jail’s revenues. A large portion of the jail’s fundraising comes from bed rentals for Culpeper and Page counties. With courts trying to hold off issuing jail sentences and moving eligible inmates out, RSW lifted a requirement in Culpeper’s contract to pay for 100 beds a day.
The authority board approved a budget Thursday that projects more than $1 million in lost revenue next year and no pay or cost of living increases for RSW staff. The authority will revisit offering cost of living increases in November if the state compensation board can provide funds.