Dane County Jail to introduce rapid Covid testing as new inmates bring fresh outbreak

MADISON, Wis.– Sixteen inmates at the Dane County Jail are currently positive with COVID-19, according to the latest data from the facility. The rise comes after a spokesperson says they’d reached one of their all-time lows at just one active case at the end of last week; now, incoming inmates have brought the virus into the initial housing unit where inmates quarantine for 14 days before being released into other parts of the jail.

A total of 116 inmates are in quarantine as a result, all contained in the same quarantine housing unit, Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney said.

“Our biggest challenge right now are the new people coming into the jail,” Mahoney said. “That’s why that 116 person housing unit is such a challenge, because those are all new cases.”

Near the beginning of the pandemic, the Dane County Criminal Justice Council implemented measures designed to lower the jail population in an effort to reduce infectious disease spread among the county’s jail population. That resulted in a major reduction in the number of inmates; on Wednesday, the population was 523. (In 2019 at one point, the population was more than 800.) Later in the year, the facility introduced a decontamination system that continues to operate regularly. The jail will soon introduce rapid Covid-19 testing, taking the facility’s precautions a step further.

“That will allow us to test and have an outcome within 15 minutes,” Mahoney said. “Our staff have recently been trained in the use of that tool and we’re just waiting on its arrival, which will be a really good benefit.”

The old design of the county building, the largest of three locations where inmates are housed, makes containing COVID-19 difficult, Mahoney noted. Additionally, people coming in are often in a demographic at higher risk for the virus. Inmates have access to medical and mental health care in the facility.

Active case counts at the jail have remained low in the past several weeks, according to records from the Dane County Sheriff’s Office. Most days, the active count has been fewer than four cases.

“Really, of all the places you can be with Covid, you don’t want to be in jail,” Mahoney said. “Because [of] the close proximity and inability to separate people within the institution, we really become a spreader.”