A COVID-19 outbreak at the Hudson County jail is now up to 33 positive cases, according to a county official.

None of the 33 infected inmates are showing “serious symptoms,” but now health officials believe that an asymptomatic employee may be the source of the spread in the facility, county spokesman Jim Kennelly told The Jersey Journal on Sunday.

“It appears that the individuals who were in custody who developed a positive test had interactions not with a fellow inmate who had COVID, but it appears it may have come from an employee…,” Kennelly said. “That’s the theory we’re working on now.”

Kennelly said — according to “initial efforts” of contact-tracing by the Kearny Health Department and the Hudson Regional Health Commission — the exposure may have come from a Corrections and Rehabilitation Center employee.

All employees, including the officers, wear PPE (personal protective equipment), Kennelly said. Anyone coming into the facility gets tested for the virus, but Kennelly and health officials believe the infected employee may have gotten a negative result, but it wasn’t as up to date “as it should’ve been.”

For newer inmates, they get tested as they enter the jail, but cannot go into the general population section of the facility until they receive a negative result.

If an inmate tests positive, they are housed in a separate medical isolation unit for 10 days and they must be symptom free for the last 72 hours before returning to the general population where all individuals — including inmates — wear PPE, Kennelly said.

Inmates do not wear PPE in their individual cells. Kennelly added that he has not heard any new “concerns” of the PPE used in the facility.

On Friday, at least 17 inmates tested positive for COVID-19, the jail’s Deputy Director Michael Conrad wrote in an email on Christmas Eve. Sixteen of those who tested positive are county inmates and one is a federal inmate.

Tour of Hudson County Corrections and Rehabilitation Center in Kearny

A day room or common area where inmates can eat, watch TV, use the commissary or make a phone call at the Hudson County Corrections and Rehabilitation Center in Kearny. The lighting have all been replaced with LEDs and the glass on the windows have been replaced. Reena Rose Sibayan | The Jersey Journal

While Kennelly said the timeline of this new string of cases is unclear, this isn’t the first wave to hit the facility.

At least 60 prisoners tested positive earlier this year during the spring and another two inmates tested positive in August. In March, as positive COVID-19 cases increased, the jail released 43 low-level offenders to curb the internal spread of the virus.

No inmates have died from the respiratory infection, but it has claimed the lives of five employees including nurses and correctional officers.

In April, Bernard Waddell Sr., a 28-year veteran correctional police officer, died from the virus. His family sued the county in November, stating that he worked without PPE while inmates were showing COVID-19 symptoms.

Kennelly said on Sunday that the lawsuit is still under litigation.

The county spokesman said they will continue to follow CDC guidelines, monitor cases and symptoms and work out procedures — including a review of employee testing — within the facility.

“We do believe that the vaccination that’s coming, hopefully soon, for the medical staff will be a key component,” he said. “… There’s going to be a review of mandatory employee testing to see where in that procedure things can be checked and see what may have led to this employee slipping through as a likely asymptomatic positive and then interacting with an inmate.”

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