El Paso County jail agrees to do more to stop virus spread

January 4, 2021 GMT

DENVER (AP) — Inmates in a Colorado jail will get daily temperature checks and those who test positive for COVID-19 will be regularly monitored by medical staff under a temporary deal negotiated by lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union and the sheriff and approved by a federal judge Monday.

The ACLU sued El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder last month after his office acknowledged that inmates were not routinely given masks to wear to prevent the spread of infection until a large COVID-19 outbreak in the jail. Jail officials said they could not distribute masks initially during the pandemic because the only ones available had metal staples which they said created unspecified safety concerns.


Under the preliminary injunction approved by U.S. District Judge R. Brooke Jackson, inmates will be given two cloth masks to use and deputies who do no wear masks will face discipline. Deputies will check inmates’ temperatures twice a day and anyone with a temperature over 99.4 degrees will be referred to medical staff. Those who test positive will be checked by medical staff daily and given access to over-the-counter pain and cold medicine like Tylenol or Mucinex for free without having to submit a written request for it under the deal.

Some jail inmates have not been able to regularly get such medication because they were too sick to get to a computer kiosk during the limited hours when they could submit a request, said Mark Silverstein, the legal director of the ACLU of Colorado.

Under the deal, inmates who test positive will be kept isolated from other inmates until they fully recover and jail officials will also try, as space allows, to provide single cells for inmates who are at high risk for developing severe complications if they contract COVID-19.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of six inmates, alleged Elder’s office had “disordered, mismanaged” policies that allowed sick and healthy inmates to intermingle with newly arrived inmates without quarantining.

The deal, which will be in effect for 90 days, only addresses what the sheriff’s office will do going forward, not whether or not it violated inmates’ rights previously. Jackson’s order notes that both sides are negotiating in hopes of reaching a permanent settlement to end the lawsuit.