JC Together wants Hudson County jail to use same COVID-19 screening as Essex

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Jersey City Together, a faith-based community advocacy group, wants the Hudson County jail – along with the New Jersey Department of Corrections – to use the same COVID-19 screening process as in Essex County.

By John Heinis/Hudson County View

Yesterday, the Essex County jail announced they would be testing all inmates via an antibody blood test, as NJ Advance Media reported.

Rev. Dr. Willard Ashley was one member of JCT who vocalized the call for Hudson County and the state to follow suit.

“We started to sound the alarm on this issue more than 3 weeks ago. Since that time, COVID-19 infections in jails and prisons and among staff across the state have steadily increased.”

“In Hudson County where I serve, we’ve had four staff deaths and the infection rate is several times that of the state as a whole. The State Department of Corrections cannot currently test inmates on site at all. They can only test individuals who are sent to an outside hospital. Nothing about this is acceptable.”

However, Hudson County spokesman Jim Kennelly said the notion that the jail population’s infection rate is not higher than the general population, also stating that the Hudson County jail population is much less densely populated than in Essex – making medical isolation possible.

“Essex has approximately 1800 individuals  in custody in a building capable of holding 2300. We have a building capable of holding 2100 with 659 currently in custody. This gives us the space to provide a medical isolation unit with individual cells for any COVID-19 positive tested person in custody.”

Kennelly continued that Wellpath, their medical service provider, and the Hudson Regional Health Commission have both recommended molecular coronavirus testing as the best option at their facility – with 100 additional kits on their way and 100 kept on reserve.

Nevertheless, JCT’s Rev. Dr. Alonzo Perry, Sr. says there is no harm in proactively testing inmates.

“We are glad to see Gov. Murphy act to reduce incarceration rates, particularly for those at serious risk from COVID-19. But he and county executives like Tom DeGise should follow Essex County’s example and proactively test now,” he stated.

“This would give families peace of mind and help protect vulnerable communities and families where individuals are returning home. Given the disparate impact of the virus on communities of color, this is the least our elected officials can do.”

Recently, the Hudson County jail has set up a phone line in English and Spanish, as well as a website, to provide updates during the COVID-19 pandemic.