Judge to decide whether Cook County Jail is following PPE, social distancing orders

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CHICAGO — A federal judge heard testimony Thursday from detainees at Cook County Jail.

A virtual hearing was scheduled to determine whether the jail is doing enough to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Now, the judge will make a decision Monday following four hours of testimony about whether the jail is following orders regarding PPE and social distancing

On April 9, a federal judge Ordered Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart to ensure detainees have proper sanitation, virus testing, social distancing and personal protective equipment. Despite this, plaintiffs said conditions in the jail remain dire. Six inmates have died and about 400 detainees and 300 staff have tested positive for COVID-19.

Jamaal Cannon, 35, a convicted felon, is being held without bail. He was allegedly picked up twice with a gun and is awaiting trial. Cannon tested positive for COVID-19 two weeks ago. He has mild symptoms but instead of being isolated, he says he’s just moving from dorm housing to dorm housing.

“They’re moving us from like one wing with infected people to another wing where guys are sick,” Cannon said. “It’s impossible to social distance impossible when your bed is two feet apart.

Sharlyn Grace from the Chicago community bond fund says it’s cruel and inhumane to treat people like this no matter what they’ve done.

“People are very scared and with good reason especially when people are dying,” she said.

The Chicago Bond fund has raised enough money to pay the bail of 21 detainees. There are 4,200 hundred people in the Cook County Jail.

“We watch the news every day and every day they lying about what they’re doing for us,” Cannon said.

A spokesperson for the Cook County Sheriff’s Office said detainees have masks and that they have been following CDC guidelines regarding PPE.

The sheriff’s office issued the following statement:

The Office and its brave front line correction staff have been working aggressively for months to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, an insidious virus the world is still learning much about. Detainees have been provided masks since April 12. Initially the CDC advised that only those who are symptomatic for COVID-19 should wear masks. As that guidance changed, so did our protocols. In addition to the protective equipment, detainees who are symptomatic are immediately isolated. According to our records, Jamaal Cannon was isolated on April 14.

Even before COVID-19 started rapidly spreading in the Chicago area, Sheriff Dart implemented a number of measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the Cook County Jail. In January, we began screening detainees for flu-like symptoms. The jail separates new detainees from the remainder of the jail population for 14 days and created an off-site 500-bed isolation unit for those who become ill.

Hand sanitizer– previously prohibited due to its flammability content – is offered to detainees. This is in addition to ample amounts of soap, delivered twice a week, and cleaning supplies they already have access to. Hundreds of gallons of bleach and disinfectant is distributed throughout the jail weekly . We have proactively single celled 95% of the population and are maximizing social distancing. The remainder of the population is required to be in dorm settings due to their mental health conditions.

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