All ECCF inmates and detainees to be tested for COVID

NEWARK, NJ — Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr., Freeholder Board President Brendan Gill and Vice President Wayne Richardson commended medical care provider CFG for its initiative to screen all Essex County Correctional Facility inmates and detainees for COVID-19, according to an April 13 press release. This makes the ECCF one of, if not the, first jail facility in the United States to utilize the recently approved antibody rapid blood test to screen every inmate and detainee whether they are symptomatic or not.

“We always have had a great working relationship with CFG and have maintained confidence in the high level of care they have provided to the inmates and detainees at our correctional facility,” DiVincenzo, Gill and Richardson said in a joint statement. “Employing the use of the rapid blood test shows initiative on the part of CFG to be on the cutting edge of health care to use emerging medical science to protect the health and welfare of inmates and detainees. The rapid blood test will help CFG to immediately identify who has been exposed to the virus so that more aggressive measures can be taken to reduce the amount of people who come in contact with the virus and decrease its transmission.

“We have undertaken a comprehensive set of initiatives to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus at our facility and keep the inmates, detainees, officers and staff safe,” the county officials continued. “But we all recognize that social distancing, which has been identified as the most effective means to stop the virus’ spread, is extremely difficult in a jail setting. CFG’s introduction of the rapid blood test demonstrates their commitment to protect the jail population to the best of their ability and provides another tool for prevention.”

This news comes after the April 8 announcement that a 48-year-old ECCF inmate died that afternoon; the cause of death is undetermined at this time and is not currently linked to COVID-19. According to an April 8 statement from Essex County Office of Public Information Director Anthony Puglisi, “The individual entered the ECCF on July 17, 2019, and was placed in the facility’s infirmary on April 4 after complaining of symptoms consistent with a urinary infection. He was treated on-site by medical staff and remained under observation. Ambulance/EMT services were called at 11:45 a.m. when his condition deteriorated. In the interim, a medical response team from within the ECCF was activated and they provided medical first aid until 12:46 p.m., when the inmate was pronounced dead by the medical director at the ECCF. The Essex County medical examiner has been contacted and will investigate further. The cause of death is undetermined at this time.”

The test CFG will administer to inmates and detainees at ECCF for COVID-19 is called the “COVID-19 IgG/IgM rapid test cassette” and is performed via a finger-stick for blood. Results can be obtained within 15 minutes. It was approved two weeks ago by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and authorized under Emergency Use Authorization No. 200056. CFG, which provides the health and medical services at the ECCF, ordered the tests as soon as it became available in late March.

This test will allow health professionals to determine if a patient has been exposed to the virus and may possibly be building greater immunity. This will enable inmates and detainees to be housed based on whether they have been exposed to the virus or not and help prevent the spread of the virus to those who don’t have it.

The screening will be rolled out in stages and administered based on the availability of the tests. The first 35 screening kits arrived on Friday, April 10; another 750 kits are scheduled to arrive this week; and the final 2,000 are scheduled to be delivered within the next week. The first group of inmates and detainees to be tested was new admissions to the facility and those who are quarantined and being watched for COVID-19 symptoms. The next group will be inmates and detainees who have pre-existing medical conditions that make them a higher risk for severe COVID-19 illness. The last group to be screened will be inmates and detainees who are asymptomatic. Corrections officers and staff also may be tested upon request. Testing began Friday, April 10.

Separate units at the ECCF have been designated to house inmates and detainees who are symptomatic; as of April 13, there were 95 inmates and detainees in those units.

To reduce the population in the facility, the ECCF has been identifying inmates and detainees who are more susceptible to the virus based on age and underlying medical conditions, and worked with the courts, the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office and ICE to release them early. To date, 72 inmates and 80 ICE detainees have been released.