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The Mercer County Jail in Findley Township.

MERCER — A COVID-19 outbreak has hit the Mercer County Jail, with 14 prisoners and seven officers testing positive for the coronavirus.

The outbreak has, temporarily, shut down family visits and programs using outside volunteers, such as General Education Equivalency classes. Recreation time for inmates continues, but in smaller groups.

The District Attorney’s office and President Judge Robert G. Yeatts have also taken measures to limit jail intake, with alternatives such as fines or house arrest potentially used for minor offenses or offenders with underlying health issues.

“The DA and the judge have helped us out by keeping new commitments from coming into the facility, so it’s just the most serious cases,” Warden Erna Craig told The Herald on Monday.

Officers testing positive for COVID are quarantined in their homes, Craig said. Inmates who tested positive are quarantined in their cells and receiving treatment from the jail’s medical contractor, PrimeCare Medical.

Craig called symptoms among inmates who have contracted COVID-19 “very minor.” Quarantined officers were being treated by their physicians with no hospitalizations.

The jail, which houses about 166 prisoners, has stepped up COVID mitigation efforts. “We’re just trying right now to put a stop to it,” Craig said.

Safety measures were already in place when the outbreak started, including mask mandates, temperature readers, hand sanitizers, and routine cleanings.

Previous outbreaks of COVID-19 at the jail have tended to be limited to one or a few people, Craig said. New inmates who already had COVID-19 were quickly identified during intake and isolated until they tested negative.

Craig said it was unknown how this outbreak started, with the first case identified on Thursday, Nov. 4. She asked that police be patient as jail officials contain the spread.

The quarantining of the seven officers isn’t expected to impact jail operations, with overtime from other officers helping to fill the gaps. Some quarantined officers are expected to return later this week, after receiving a negative COVID test, Craig said.

“It hasn’t progressed much over the weekend, so hopefully we put a stop to it,” she said. “Once it starts in a facility like this, we’re such a confined area that it could happen fast. We have to stay on top of it.”

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