BEMIDJI -- No positive coronavirus cases have been found in jail facilities in the state of Minnesota, but officials are taking several precautions in the midst of the pandemic.
"We have thought of as many options as possible," said Beltrami County Jail Administrator Calandra Allen. "We've been doing quite a bit to get ahead and we're following the lead from other states and counties."
Because of the COVID-19 situation, the jail has suspended all in-person and/or lobby visits to the jail are suspended until further notice. Video visitations with inmates are still available, though, at inmatecanteen.com. Additionally, because of the situation, the fee has been lowered from $0.39 per minute to $0.25 per minute.
Community members can also purchase a phone card at reliancetelephone.com to speak with inmates.
Along with suspending in-person stops and limiting visitation to digital platforms, the county jail is screening everyone who does come in.
"If people are showing symptoms of COVID-19, we send them home immediately," Allen said. "If an arrestee is showing symptoms, we'll screen them and we'll have the deputies call the ER to take direction."
If an inmate were to have symptoms of the virus, Allen explained the jail has what's called a negative pressure room for quarantine, which has a special ventilation system to contain airborne viruses and bacteria. She also said staff has access to personal protection equipment.
"We're very cognizant of the threat and we're doing what we can to keep everyone here safe," Allen said.
At the state level, the Minnesota Department of Corrections has stated normal health care programs and medical staff is working to address concerns for inmates. According to its website, the department's commissioner does have the authority to grant conditional medical releases and work releases for those who qualify.
The commissioner is actively considering how to exercise that authority, the department states, to protect communities and help minimize the risk for those incarcerated.
Additionally, the department has installed more hand-washing stations and hand sanitizing stations at all of the state's facilities. Because the symptoms are similar to influenza, the department already has protocols on addressing illnesses among those who're incarcerated and is updating those protocols based on guidance from the Minnesota Department of Health.
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