Aurora city jail ramps up screening of inmates during COVID-19 pandemic; 3 detainees turned away

FILE PHOTO: Melissa Morehead, a senior detention officer, handcuffs an inmate she’s preparing to transfer to the Arapahoe County Jail at the Aurora Municipal Jail. (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)

AURORA |  A trio of people have been turned away from the city jail after indicating they had either been around someone with COVID-19, recently travelled to an area known to be rife with the virus, or were experiencing symptoms themselves, city officials confirmed to The Sentinel Tuesday. 

All three of the detainees were transported to local hospitals for observation, and all three tested negative for the virus, according to Zelda DeBoyes, the city’s court administrator. They were all brought back to the municipal jail beside the Aurora Municipal Court.

The city’s 72-hour holding facility will remain open for the foreseeable future even though the city’s municipal court system will shut down for two weeks beginning March 18, according to DeBoyes. 

Since this weekend, city jail staffers have screened all new detainees in a sally port just outside of the facility. New detainees are given a questionnaire and observed for symptoms.

Anyone who reports having been around a known COVID-19 patient, travelled to a high-risk country, or appears symptomatic themselves, is turned away and brought to a hospital. 

The jail does not have the capability to quarantine or test sick detainees suspected of having COVID-19, according to DeBoyes.

The local jail can hold up to 60 detainees for three days and serves as the first stop for anyone arrested in Aurora.

Detainees at the city jail have access to hand sanitizer and hand wipes, DeBoyes confirmed.

Officials from both the Arapahoe County detention center and the Adams County jail confirmed they have the ability to test inmates for the new coronavirus. Neither facility had confirmed a case of the disease caused by the virus as of Tuesday afternoon. 

Inmates at both facilities, which each house approximately 1,000 people, undergo extensive health screenings at intake, officials at both facilities said. 

If an inmate were to become infected in the Arapahoe County facility, which serves about 90 percent of Aurora residents, they would be isolated in a negative airflow medical room, according to a captain with the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office.

Nearly a dozen detainees being held at the ICE detention facility on Oakland Street  in Aurora have been isolated after “possible exposure” to someone infected with the virus, ICE officials announced Tuesday morning. It’s unclear how long the people have been isolated.

Earlier in the day, criminal justice reform advocates from ACLU Colorado and the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition called on state officials to enact novel protocols to reduce the state’s jail and prison populations in an effort to protect inmates from infection.