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Columbia County Jail adjusts to coronavirus, on-site visitation suspended
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Columbia County Jail adjusts to coronavirus, on-site visitation suspended

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No inmates or staff members at Columbia County Jail have been tested for COVID-19, but the jail has made several changes to account for the global pandemic.

The jail’s medical staff is thoroughly evaluating new inmates before they mix with the rest of the jail’s population, said Capt. James Stilson, the jail and communication center administrator. Medical clearance involves a period of isolation depending on the inmate and his or her release date and checking for COVID-19 symptoms including fever.

“At this point there have been no situations where (laboratory) testing was necessary,” Stilson said of inmates and staff.

If the jail were to determine that an inmate has COVID-19 “we would isolate them and don PPEs (personal protective equipment) and take every precaution,” Stilson said. “We would work closely with our medical staff on establishing a care plan for them” and if the inmate exhibited advanced symptoms of COVID-19, “they would be taken to the hospital.”

Sheriff Roger Brandner, along with local judges, suspended Huber work release privileges beginning March 23 and will continue to evaluate the situation week to week, Stilson said.

“Because of our concerns about the virus, they did not want all that traffic going back and forth,” Stilson said.

Columbia County Jail has a current population of about 110 inmates across both its Huber Center and secure jail, Stilson said. Its capacity is 144 inmates in the secure jail and 96 in the Huber Center. The jail population is a bit lower than usual right now, he said, but that downward trend started months prior to the virus outbreak and is a statewide trend for which there is no obvious explanation.

“If a person needs to be placed into custody, it’s business as usual,” Stilson said of the local jail’s population. “We’re still arresting people.”

Brandner said the sheriff’s office, since late March, has handled “as many calls over the phone as we can” but his deputies continue to meet with residents whenever necessary. PPEs have been assigned to every deputy and the sheriff’s office staff have shifted their hours, reducing contact with one another.

On-site visitation of inmates is suspended indefinitely, but the jail’s video visitation system, introduced last year, is operating as usual, Stilson said.

“Even before the virus, more people were using the video system instead of the in-person visitation,” Stilson said. “They can visit the inmates remotely using their computers or their phones.”

More information about video visitation including its hours is available at the jail’s website on co.columbia.wi.us. Those who wish to visit the inmates will now have access to one free visit per week, accounting for the economic impact of the novel coronavirus, Stilson said.

Capital Newspapers reporter Bridget Cooke contributed to this report

Follow Noah Vernau on Twitter @NoahVernau or contact him at 608-695-4956.

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