Inmate who contracted COVID-19 in jail questions safety measures

After contracting COVID-19 while in jail, a Eugene man is sharing his story in hopes it will create change to protect other inmates in the future.

Posted: Jan 22, 2021 5:21 PM
Updated: Jan 22, 2021 7:25 PM

EUGENE, Ore. -- After contracting COVID-19 while in jail, a Eugene man is sharing his story in hopes it will create change to protect other inmates in the future.

Blake Roberts, 34, was booked into jail last November with a clean bill of health. After a two-week quarantine and negative COVID-19 test, he was sent off to be with the rest of the inmates and became an inmate worker, serving food and cleaning cells.

But then Roberts said an inmate in his unit started showing symptoms. Instead of isolating that person, Roberts said jail staff waited multiple days for the test to confirm what he already suspected. The inmate had coronavirus. After learning of his exposure, Roberts demanded a test as well, which came back positive.

“My main concern is the fact we were serving other inmates while we were COVID-positive and they allowed that other guy to be on our unit until they waited for his test results. And in turn, none of those guys got re-tested, so there’s 100 guys we’re serving food to that were potentially exposed to COVID themselves.”

He says the cases are emblematic of a larger issue, whereby both inmates and staff are not following proper protocols, and he says there’s little enforcement for those who don’t.

When questioned, command staff at the jail said they are satisfied with their current precautions.

“Command staff at the jail are satisfied with the many operational changes that have been made and they continue to evaluate those changes each day and make additional changes as needed,” staff said.

Jail staff said the inmate dorms are all below 25% capacity but did not have information readily available on the number of inmates who currently have the virus.

Roberts said he would like several changes to be made in the jail.

“I would say double down on the enforcement of the rules. Maybe they need to take away the dorm settings. Providing people with the proper masks and stuff and require them to be worn and making sure everybody’s actually six feet apart,” Roberts said.

Jail staff they are working with Lane County Public Health to ensure as little spread of the virus as possible.

“While the operations at the jail have been adjusted to protect the health of adults in custody and staff, it requires the people in custody to also maintain proper distance rather than gathering in close groups in dormitories or during exercise. Everyone is reminded and encouraged to practice safety protocols both verbally and with signage posted throughout the jail in English and Spanish.  Adults in custody are also provided (personal protective equipment) and proper cleaning supplies,” the jail said.

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