With Comanche County reporting 151 cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday, the viral hot spot is the Comanche County Detention Center where 70 percent of the county’s cases have been reported.

According to Brandie Combs, Region 5 Regional Director for the Oklahoma State Department of Health, the detention has 92 active cases among its inmates and 14 among its staff, as of Wednesday morning. This follows testing May 6 and 7 of 321 inmates and 65 members of the staff. A handful of inmates refused to take the test.

“Yes, the numbers are increasing at CCDC,” she said. “We don’t have all the results in but are very concerned about what we have seen to date.”

Combs said the Department of Health is working with the Comanche County Commissioners and District Attorney’s office along with CCDC Administrator Bill Hobbs to find the best possible solution to isolate positive inmates as well as continue testing any who become systematic.

The new numbers follow the May 6 discovery that 30 people from the detention center had tested positive for the virus. It prompted the thorough testing to follow.

Hobbs was unavailable for comment Wednesday afternoon; he was in a meeting with Combs and others to discuss the issue.

Combs said that since then, a few inmates have been released from the jail but she’s not aware that any of them had the virus upon release or if they have become symptomatic since their release.

“We have a high number in CCDC but there’s not been very many, if any, other jails or correctional facilities that have tested all their inmates,” she said. “We’re going to have a higher number.”

Combs called the situation an ongoing concern. Each day involves multiple meetings concerning ways of mitigating the issue and containing the curve.

For the families with loved ones behind bars, the separation has been made harder by the closure of the detention center to the public. They, in turn, reach out to others for information.

“It’s hard,” Combs said. “We’re getting calls like crazy with people concerned.”

For detention center staff, their loss at the facility is putting a strain on the staff who remain to carry the load. Those who test positive as well as their families are strained as well.

Combs said that diagnosed employees self-quarantine in isolation at home. If their families choose to stay with them, they are also quarantined and their conditions monitored daily, she said.

“Without question, there is a local impact as employees come and go within the facility as well as the inmates who are being released,” she said.

For those who remain behind bars, Combs said their situation is serious. So are the efforts to keep them from becoming ill.

There are considerations that are unusual for Combs to consider. With male and female prisoners, not to mention some teens, in custody, there are basic considerations into housing that have been exacerbated by potential gang rivalries or inmates in jail for the same case.

“I’m learning all kinds of things when it’s coming to Department of Corrections,” she said. “It’s not like a nursing home. You may cause more harm than good.”

But those working on the problem “are trying,” Combs added.

“We’re trying to find the very best solution to protect the employees, to protect the inmates and to beat the spread of the virus,” she said.

In a prior conversation with The Constitution, Hobbs said that masks were being provided to all inmates and sanitization measures have been implemented. But due to the nature of a jail facility, he worried how much action would be enough.

Combs said that inmates will be retested in the future as needed. There also has been discussion about retesting inmates when the are released. But there are concerns.

“Even if someone tests negative, they’ve still spent several days in there exposed to everyone else,” she said. “We’re trying to weigh all the options we have and to pick the very best solutions for this particular facility,” she said. “It’s definitely a challenge.”

At the City Jail, it’s a different situation.

Sgt. Tim Jenkins, Lawton Police information officer, said the City Jail hasn’t proven to be the viral hot spot the county lockup has become.

The list of possible reasons include the relatively brief time an inmate is locked up there and also by the knowledge that some inmates arrested outside the city limits are taken immediately to the Comanche County Detention Center. If they’re unable to post bond, they remain and remain exposed to new cases of the virus coming in. Also, some inmates may be asymptomatic when they arrive.

Combs said that Lawton Correctional Facility also has reported no cases from within its walls. It’s different at another GEO-Group-owned facility. The Great Plains Correctional Institution in Hinton houses 1,700 prisoners and they have 58 recorded cases, she said.

Overall, there are some bright spots appearing in Comanche County in halting the overall spread of COVID-19. On Wednesday morning, the Department of Health reported that 79 of the 184 total cases in Comanche County have recovered. There have been two deaths in Comanche County and 278 statewide.

Written by Scott Rains: scott.rains@swoknews.com.

Written by Scott Rains: scott.rains@swoknews.com.

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