Record-breaking number of COVID-19 cases in Milwaukee County Jail puts strain on operations

NOW: Record-breaking number of COVID-19 cases in Milwaukee County Jail puts strain on operations

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- The omicron surge of COVID-19 is making its way through the Milwaukee County Jail.

Sheriff Earnell Lucas reports 206 inmates and 30 employees are positive with COVID-19 as of Monday, Jan. 10.

The record-breaking case numbers come at a time when the jail is simultaneously experiencing a high number of inmates and low numbers in staffing. As a result, there's strain on operations.

"These situations are far from ideal and outside of our control," Lucas said.

Lucas said the jail is enacting several mitigation measures, including restrictions on the time inmates spend outside of their cells.

"Many of these measures have consequences of their own," Lucas said.

The Milwaukee County House of Corrections is the jail's source for hot meals and laundry service. Both are on hold due to workers testing positive for COVID-19.

"All of their workers went on quarantine. When that happened, we were forced to serve cold meals for quite some time," Milwaukee County Jail Commander Inspector Aaron Dobson said.

Their regular menu isn't back, but Dobson said inmates are served several hot meals each day again.

Laundry service is also limited. Dobson said the state requires clean linens to be passed out at least twice a week.

"We've been passing out linen at least once a week," Dobson said. "We pass it out whenever we can, and whenever we get it."

Lucas said all of the interim measures were done in close consultation with state regulators.

The jail reports inmates are retaliating because of recent conditions.

"Frustrated occupants have, at times, protested by intentionally flooding their toilets, creating a serious health and safety challenge," Lucas said.

There have been more than 180 toilet flooding incidents in the past two weeks, further straining low staffing.

"Now, when this happens, we have to send bio-hazard occupant workers to go clean up that mess," Dobson said. "At times, it takes up to an hour to clean it up. This impacts everyone in the housing unit."

All inmates are provided surgical masks, according to Lucas. He said they're having a hard time getting inmates to wear them when outside of their cells.

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