Local jails not conducting mass COVID-19 testing yet as TN state prisons test inmates, staff

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SULLIVAN COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL)- Tennessee is in the process of mass-testing all its state prison inmates and staff for coronavirus. The effort comes after the state Department of Corrections confirmed on Friday there were more than 1,200 cases at the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center.

TDOC confirmed this afternoon that Northeast State Correctional Complex in Johnson County will test all officers and staff this Wednesday, with inmate testing statewide starting Tuesday.

Local jails in Northeast Tennessee do not have plans to conduct mass testing on inmates right now. At the Sullivan County Jail and Kingsport City Jail, symptom screening is being used before inmates enter facilities.

Captain Andy Seabolt with the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office said the screenings included temperature checks and questionnaires.

“They are seen by a nurse before they ever enter the facility,” Seabolt said.

Seabolt said the jail is following all CDC recommendations. He said mass-testing isn’t currently being done because no inmates are showing symptoms.

“Right now we’ve had no reason to test anyone or identify anyone that could possibly have any issues right now,” said Seabolt.

The state said on Friday the majority of cases at Trousdale Turner Correctional Center were asymptomatic. According to Greene County Jail Administrator Roger Willett, local jails have not yet received direction from the state to conduct mass-testing.

Willett said a statewide teleconference will happen on Wednesday for both TDOC facilities and local jails, and more testing guidance could come then. Willett confirmed Greene County’s jail was also not conducting mass COVID-19 testing.

On Monday, Carter County Sheriff Dexter Lunceford confirmed with News Channel 11 the Carter County jail also had no plans to conduct mass-testing on inmates.

News Channel 11 also reached out to the Washington County Sheriff’s Office on any testing plans, and did not receive a response as of 6 p.m. on Monday.

If testing becomes required, Seabolt said the Sheriff’s Office would work with the Sullivan County Health Department.

The Sullivan County Jail currently has 596 inmates. A pre-trial release program began this year, allowing 184 people to be out of the jail. Seabolt said the program is also helping prevent overcrowding, which could make it easier to spread COVID-19.

“There have been fewer people coming to jail during all this as well,” he said.

The Kingsport City Jail is also screening inmates before entry into their 72-hour holding facility.

“If symptoms are present, then they will be sent to the hospital,” said Officer Tom Patton with the Kingsport Police Department. “Then it will be up to the hospital staff to determine if testing is necessary. But so far we’ve not had any positive reports back from that.”

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