March 30, 2020

Metro Detention Center says an inmate tested positive for COVID-19

Bernalillo County announced Monday that an inmate at the Metropolitan Detention Center tested positive for COVID-19.

The county said MDC learned of the positive test on Sunday and the patient is now isolated and receiving treatment from the detention center’s medical team.

Four MDC staff are now self-isolating after coming into contact with the inmate. The detention center says inmates are being monitored, but none are currently exhibiting symptoms.

According to the release, the inmate was booked on Thursday, March 26 and did not exhibit any symptoms of COVID-19, which are a fever, coughing and shortness of breath. The jail learned two days after the inmate arrived that the inmate’s mother was hospitalized and tested positive for COVID-19; the inmate had been caring for his mother.

Last week, MDC announced it would begin releasing inmates who met the CDC guidelines for medical risk from COVID-19, as long as they were in custody for nonviolent charges. Of the 86 inmates who met the guideline, 46 were booked for violent charges; another 17 were already on house arrest or in a halfway house program.

Chief Public Defender Bennett Baur told NM Political Report that the positive test “was inevitable” and a “wake up call.”

“Unfortunately, this may be the first of many cases in our jails and prisons,” he said.

And he noted there could would likely be more impact in jails than in prisons, since more people cycle in and out of jails than in prisons, including on low-level, nonviolent offenses.

Both the Law Office of the Public Defender and the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office would need to agree on an inmate’s eligibility, then a judge would need to sign off.

This weekend, an inmate in Louisiana died after contracting COVID-19 in a federal prison, the first in the federal prison system. The Washington Post reported that from that same prison, 30 inmates and staff have tested positive for COVID-19, while at least 60 inmates are in quarantine. An unknown number of staff are self-quarantining at home.

It highlights how quickly the disease can spread in jails and prisons, with cramped quarters and few options for distancing.

Advocates have warned for weeks, since before the first confirmed cases in jails or prisons, that the facilities are particularly at risk.

“What happened in Albuquerque needs to wake everybody up across the state that this is not a drill,” Baur said. “And we need to move on this issue now.”

Update: Added quotes and information from Bennett Baur.