COVID turns up at county jail

One inmate tested positive in November

By Randy Bartley

Staff Writer

CLARION

The Clarion County Jail has reported its first case of the COVID-19 virus. Warden Jeff Hornberger told the county's jail inspection board Jan. 14 one inmate tested positive for the virus in November.

Hornberger said the inmate was taken to the Clarion Hospital for testing. The warden said it took several days for the test results and the inmate was placed in quarantine when he returned.

The board approved payment for COVID testing for the four corrections officers who transported the positive inmate to the Clarion Hospital. The tests cost $131 each for a total of $524.

"When the inmate tested positive we had to take the inmate down to the hospital," said Hornberger. "It took two officers to transport him to the hospital. They were with him for several hours. They were exposed through the jail. We had two officers who had to go down and relieve them. It was one of those weird situations that happen.

"We had other staff members who were tested and they used their own insurance to pay for the test."

Hornberger added, "This was our first case and we did not know how we were going to do things at that point.

The board agreed to pay for the testing. The payment will be made with funds in the prison revenue account.

Hornberger said 15 COVID tests were performed on the inmates in December. The state requires inmates have a negative COVID test before they can be admitted by the Department of Corrections.

The Clarion County Jail cannot require a person to have COVID test prior to being admitted.

"We get people directly off of the street so that would be pretty hard to do," said Hornberger. "The best we can do is take their temperature and ask if they have been around anyone with COVID."

Jail board member Sheriff Rex Munsee told the board that the state has informed him that no prisoner transfers can be scheduled before March or April. The sheriff's department is responsible for transporting prisoners sentenced to a state correctional institution from Clarion to SCI Green for processing into the state system. Prisoners must have a negative COVID test before they are admitted.

"We do have six inmates here presently who are going to the state Department of Corrections," said Hornberger.

"We are moving three this month but March or April will be the quickest we can move anyone else," said Munsee. "We will be able to take three this month but as far as the other three, we are in a holding pattern."

Munsee said the state will not accept any prisoners from Clarion County because of the volume they are getting from other counties.

He said the prisoner embargo was not due to the recent COVID outbreaks at several state prisons.

"I don't think COVID has thrown a wet blanket on crime," said Munsee. "When they go out to commit a crime they are not too concerned about COVID."

In other business:

4The inmates at the jail are paying for their own uniforms.

"The profits from the commissary items purchased by the inmates are used to buy uniforms, sheets, towels basically anything inmate related. The taxpayers have never seen a bill for anything like that," said Hornberger. "There is approximately $19,000 in the commissary account. We get 40 percent profit of anything we well through the commissary. We sell everything from hygiene products to snack items. The account is audited annually."

4Hornberger said the work release program would remain closed for the present.

"The doctor has not given us the green light to resume the program," said the warden. "I think we should wait another month or so."

4There will be no visitation at the jail for the time being.

"Right now all of the county buildings are locked down so I can't even start to open up visitation until the county lifts that restriction," said Hornberger.

Visitation has not been permitted since August.

"We are looking at some advanced technology for the visitation program," said the warden. "We have a meeting next week with the GDL people."

4Clarion County Commissioner Wayne Brosius was re-elected as the chairman of the jail board for 2021 with District Attorney Drew Welsh elected as the vice-chairman.