Dozens sick at South Jersey jail; warden faults partying officers
BRIDGETON — Cumberland County Jail officials support the handling of an ongoing COVID-19 outbreak among inmates and staff members, while the local union for correctional officers takes issue with the county's theory of virus spread.
As of Monday, there have been 50 inmates and 20 county jail correctional officers or staff members that tested positive for coronavirus, Warden Richard Smith said in a written response to New Jersey 101.5, with 260 inmates currently housed at the jail.
Of those cases, 10 inmates and 11 officers have completed quarantine, leaving 40 inmates and 9 staff members among active cases as of this week, according to Smith.
Another 10 inmates with the virus were expected to come out of quarantine within the next week, as the jail continues to follow state Department of Health and CDC guidelines.
No inmate has required hospitalization for COVID-19 also as of Monday, Smith said, noting jail administrators have “no documentation of any correctional officer or staff member/civilians being hospitalized for COVID-19. There was one employee hospitalized for other health issues.”
Very few officers or inmates who have tested positive have shown any serious symptoms, the warden said, noting the jail has “adequate supplies of PPE and have implemented appropriate cleaning, social distancing, wearing masks, quarantine and staffing protocols to ensure that our facility is as safe as possible.”
“Unfortunately, we have learned that some corrections officers have not followed guidelines regarding the wearing of masks and social distancing at outside private gatherings held in recent weeks. Ensuring corrections officers and staff follow COVID-19 precautions on their personal time can be a major challenge.”
In response, the union president for the jail’s correctional officers said to NJ.com that the comments on potential social spread were in “poor taste.”
PBA Local 231 president Victor Bermudez was quoted as saying in the same report that two of the correctional officers were hospitalized but had since been discharged.
The contention between jail administrators and correctional officers has been ongoing this season, as the Vineland Daily Journal reported in late October that a barbecue and a Halloween party involving at least some staffers had previously caused friction over protocols.
State Sen. Mike Testa, R-Cumberland, also issued a statement to New Jersey 101.5, noting that in light of the number of positive cases “it is clear administrators at the Cumberland jail are overmatched and incapable of controlling the spread.”
“Inmates are getting sick and correction officers are getting sick. If they can’t get this contained quickly, we’re going to see an outbreak in the surrounding communities and that is something we all want to prevent," he added.
On Tuesday, the state reported 5,820 new positive cases based on test results and 90 new confirmed deaths. Of the new positive cases, 113 were reported in Cumberland County.