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COVID-19 Update

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FAQs about COVID-19 and the Buncombe County Detention Facility

From the Sheriff's Office

Since February, Buncombe County Sheriff Quentin Miller and Major Tony Gould have been working in partnership with Buncombe County Government to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 at the Buncombe County Detention Facility (BCDF), also known as the county jail.

We have compiled this list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) so that the public and our community members with family or friends in custody at the BCDF can better understand the proactive measures we are taking to keep our detainees and Detention Officers safe. (We are using the term detainees to refer to those held in-custody instead of the commonly used term inmates because many individuals in custody are being held pre-trial and have not been convicted of a crime.) 

Q. Have any detainees or Sheriff’s Office staff tested positive for COVID-19?

A. No one has tested positive as of May 5. We do know that there is community spread occuring in Buncombe County and that it may be a matter of time before it enters the facility.

Q. How often are detainees and Detention Officers being checked for symptoms of COVID-19?

A. Each detainee receives a screening for COVID-19 when they enter the BCDF. This consists of a temperature check and a series of questions that screen for symptoms. A temperature of 100.4 is the threshold. 

Sheriff Miller has waived the sick call fee, so inmates can do sick call daily, if needed. They are self-monitoring symptoms once they are in-custody. 

Staff are being checked twice a day by having their temperature checked and are asked to self-report any other symptoms. 

Q. What additional measures are being taken?

A. Sheriff Miller and Major Gould have been focusing on prevention for the safety of both detainees and our Detention Officers and staff.

Masks are required for staff when in close contact with inmates. Gloves are used as part of normal operations by Detention Officers and that predates COVID-19.

We believe we have an adequate amount of PPE, but continue to evaluate our needs especially since this may be a prolonged event with a “second wave” occuring in the fall months.

Here are some concrete measures that have been put in place:

  • All BCSO staff are instructed to stay home if you are sick or show symptoms of COVID-19
  • Implemented flexible non-punitive leave policy in coordination with Buncombe County so that Deputies and Officers don't come to work when sick
  • Enhanced cleaning protocols 
  • Issued Deputies and Detention Officers gloves and other PPE items including hand sanitizer 
  • Required fit testing for N-95 respirators
  • Required Deputies to put on PPE if they encounter someone with symptoms
  • Working closely with our County Public Health Department to assess and understand risks of COVID-19
  • Closed lobby of Buncombe County Detention Facility and entire facility to non-essential personnel

Q. Is hand sanitizer and soap available to inmates?

A. Soap is provided at no cost to all inmates. Every detainee has access to a sink in their cell and showers/sinks in the common area during free time to wash their hands. 

Q. What is being done to keep the Detention Facility clean?

A. An enhanced cleaning protocol has been in place since March 19. See memorandum below.

Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office Protocols for Cleaning within the Detention Facility

The purpose of this memorandum is to have standard operating procedures in place for the cleaning of commonly used surfaces within the Buncombe County Detention Facility. Officers are responsible for and control the use of all cleaning chemicals on the housing unit.

The following measures are being taken by staff:

  • Officers will continue with cell cleanup daily. The only change is detainees no longer have the option to clean on the weekends. Cell cleanup will be mandatory daily.
  • Officers will wipe down all phones, tables, kiosks in housing unit after detainees have used them. This should be done before the start of the next free time.
  • Officers will wipe down handrails on the stairs in each unit multiple times a shift.
  • Officers assigned to booking will do the same for phones, counters, and other commonly used surfaces.
  • Detainees are not allowed to use the phone for video arraignment. If a detainee does use the phone, the officer will clean it after use.
  • If contact visits are approved by administration the contact room will be cleaned by an officer after each use.
  • After each use of the visitation booth or attorney’s booth  it will be wiped down.
  • Elevators in the facility will be wiped down and cleaned throughout each shift.
  • Card readers should be cleaned often throughout shifts.
  • Officers will clean all workstations periodically throughout each shift.

Anytime a Detention Officer is cleaning it is recommended they use the appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) which includes:

  • A single pair of disposable patient examination gloves. Change gloves if they become torn or heavily contaminated,
  • Disposable isolation gown, if or when available.
  • Respiratory protection, if required.
  • Eye protection, if needed (i.e., goggles or disposable face shield that fully covers the front and sides of the face).

Q. How frequently are detainees transferred in and out of the facility? How often are they transferred in between housing units internally?

A. As a general rule detainees are being moved as little as possible. If a security issue arises then movement between housing units will take place. Work release has been cancelled. 

Q. Are detainees at the county jail able to physically distance?

A. No more than ten detainees are out on free time in a housing unit at any given time and they are required to maintain physical distance. The common area on each housing unit is big enough to allow for physical distancing. Inmates face a loss of free time if they do not make efforts to comply.

It’s important for the public to know that we are a 604-bed facility, so we are operating differently than a facility that may be overcrowded, due to our current in-custody population being in the 350 range. Additionally, the physical layout of the BCDF is different from many facilities and having 13 separate housing units gives us an advantage when it comes to implementing physical distancing.