Douglas County Corrections has made changes regarding Covid-19

Lily Labs, Staff Writer

Prisons around the world have made many alterations due to the coronavirus, and the Douglas County Correctional Center is one of them. 

Ted Swircek has worked at the Douglas County Correctional Center for 17 yearsSwircek has been in different positions during his time at his job, but he currently works in a supervisory position as a lieutenant 

Douglas County Corrections started Covid-19 related changes back in JanuaryDue to the early preparation and detailed planning, when the first Covid-19 was confirmed, the Douglas County Correctional Center was very prepared. 

“The protocols for other contagious viruses are very similar to our Covid protocols and provided the blueprint for our Coronavirus response plan,” Swircek said. Flu and chicken pox outbreaks are examples of circumstances thaThe Correctional Center got inspiration from regarding their response to Covid-19. “The main differences between the plans are the length of time that a unit or infected inmates must isolate, and the need for a biocontainment unit due to the higher level of contagiousness of Covid-19,” he said. 

The Correctional Center began acquiring mass amounts of personal protective equipment (PPE) and had their administration and labor union work with a group of virus specialists from UNMC. They made many changes such as transforming an existing celled housing unit into a biocontainment unit, including areas for staff and detainees to decontaminate. 

The biocontainment unit is capable of housing inmates (detainees) with confirmed cases of Covid-19,” Swircek said. “This area is staffed with officers that have received training in virus containment and proper donning and doffing of personal protective equipment.” 

Alongside the physical changes to the building, daily operations for staff and detainees have been altered as well. 

“As officers and other staff arrive to work, they have their temperature taken and are subject to the standard Covid-19 medical screening questions about potential symptoms,” Swircek said. “Any officers that are symptomatic are sent home and advised to get tested for Covid-19.” 

Swircek also said that N-95 masks, gloves and eye protection are provided to all staff, and face shields and medical gowns are supplied to specialized staff who work in the biocontainment unit. Detainees are also provided with equipment, such as two cloth face masks, which are washed at least once a day, along with access to the cleaning products that are normally available.  

“When our officers first began wearing masks on duty, we had several inmates complain that they were not being provided with masks,” he said. When complaints were made, the two masks were distributed to the detainees, but says that after that there were different complaints that the masks were required. 

“The level of resistance from the detainee population when the detainee masks were first implemented was like nothing I have seen here in my 17-plus years of experience. It has been by far my most difficult year in Corrections,” Swircek admitted. “Thankfully, things have mellowed quite a bit over the past couple of months and the masks are fairly well accepted now.” 

When a detainee enters the building, they are subject to the same screenings as staff are. New detainees showing symptoms will be housed in the infirmary units or the biocontainment unit. Groups of detainees who do not exhibit symptoms who have arrived on the same day are isolated from the general population for 14 days to ensure they do not develop symptoms, they are then transferred to the general population when the 14 days are up. 

“Arrangements have been made to ensure that even those inmates that are medically isolated have access to phones, visits via video, showers, etc., ensuring that their rights are not violated,”  Swircek said. 

“Approximately one-third of our staff, about 120 officers, have tested positive for Covid-19 over the past several months, myself being one of them,” Swircek said. Because of most cases being mildly symptomatic or completely non-symptomatic, many cases would have been missed if contact tracing wasn’t used. Officers who have tested positive must stay home from work for at least ten days. Officers identified though contact tracing that may have been exposed to others who have tested positive are urged to get tested. We did end up having a handful of officers hospitalized due to the severity of their symptoms, all have since recovered,” he said. 

If a detainee tests positive for Covid-19, they will be placed in our biocontainment unit or in our infirmary based on their medical needs,” Swircek said. Detainees can also be sent to the hospital if it is medically necessary. Contact tracing is also used regarding the detainees. The area or areas the infected detainee was housed in will be isolated from the rest of the detainee population for a period of 14 days while we monitor the remaining detainees for symptoms,” he said. If other detainees develop symptoms, the isolation period may be extended.  

“We have had no less than 66 detainees test positive for Covid-19,” Swircek explained. “The majority of those cases were mild, with only a couple of cases requiring hospitalization.” 

Douglas County Corrections has one medical clinic and two infirmary units. “These areas are staffed 24 hours, seven days a week with medical professionals.  We have a doctor, physicians assistants, nurse practitioners and licensed practical nurses, and registered nurses among our medical staff,” Swircek said. 

A psychiatrist and a group of licensed medical healthcare providers are also part of the staff and are available to the detainees free of charge. 

“Our medical clinic and infirmary are always busy, treating dozens of inmates every day for a wide variety of medical issues,” Swircek said. Medical care for our inmate population is definitely a priority, despite their current circumstances, the detainees in our care are human beings and have rights.