Two more Hamblen County Jail corrections officers and five more inmates have tested positive for the coronavirus, making the jail the largest cluster of COVID-19 cases in the county, officials confirmed this morning.
The corrections officers were sent home. Three corrections officers have tested positive. The inmates, all of whom are asymptomatic, are being quarantined in the jail annex, along with 12 others who tested positive earlier, according to Bill Brittain, Hamblen County mayor and chair of the Morristown-Hamblen COVID-19 Task Force.
The 12 quarantined inmates represent 7.5 percent of the total jail population.
Brittain says he believes all the tests conducted on corrections officers and inmates have come back from the lab, but the seven new cases are not yet included in the Tennessee Department of Health’s totals.
“We are blessed to have no more than we’ve got,” Sheriff Esco Jarnagin said this morning. “We do not know what the future holds, and we are doing everything we can to prevent the spread of COVID-19 within the jail.”
When coronavirus cases began to surface in Hamblen County, law enforcement officials began making fewer arrests and bail bonds were set below traditional amounts, bringing the jail population to below its licensed capacity for the first time in many years.
One option the sheriff’s department is not considering is mass release of inmates, according to the sheriff.
“(The inmates) are here because of the choices that they made,” he said. “When you violate the rules of society, you can expect you have to go to jail … They are here because of their criminal activity.”
The state health department reported Sunday that 191 Hamblen County residents have tested positive for the coronavirus.
Apart from the cluster at the jail, Brittain says, the local positive cases are instances of community spread and are unrelated to age, sex, ethnicity or geography.