May 30, 2020
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CHICAGO — The COVID-19 outbreak inside the Cook County Jail continues to grow and staffers are doing what they can to stop it from spreading even further.

One hundred and forty one inmates at Cook County Jail are confirmed positive and Sheriff Tom Dart said they’re waiting on another 50 tests to come back.  

Dart spoke to WGN from atop the jail complex at 31st Street and California Avenue — partially responding to accusations from activist Eric Russell.

On Monday, Russell said he was concerned about conditions inside the jail. The sheriff said he began screening staff, detainees and others in January around the time COVID-19 was discovered in the United Starts.

“We’ve mentioned it from the get-go. You want to talk about a complex job, this is similar to a cruise ship in the sense that we have people here and we can’t let them off,” Dart said. “The difference is that we have new people coming in here as well.”

For now, 141 inmates are confirmed positive and are isolated. Eight people with more serious symptoms are hospitalized. Three non-violent detainees who tested positive were released to home confinement. More than 20 sheriff’s staff are positive and they are at home as others, without symptoms, are reporting to work and screened each day.

“People are showing up here to do their job and trying to come up with all the scenarios to keep them safe as well, isolating those who have illness get them the protective gear they need,” Dart said. 

The jail population currently sits at about 5,000 with most of them charged with murder, sexual assault and other violent crimes.

On Tuesday, Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle said work is being done to try and get about 1,000 more non-violent detainees out.

“We will always have people in jail. The idea is to get as many of the non-violent, with no danger to the community, out as possible,” Preckwinkle said.

The sheriff says they’re doing what they can to stay ahead of the curve, optimistic that the number of cases inside, for now, is going down.

“We’re gonna get through this thing,” he said. “It’s not going to be easy. It never was going to be easy.”

A big concern for the Department of Corrections is having enough protective equipment.