CALDWELL — Leroy Shockley doesn’t know for sure if he’s had COVID-19.
Almost all the symptoms were present, except a fever — and not everyone who contracts the illness gets a fever. His chest and joints were hurting; he had a headache and was short of breath.
Yet when Shockley, who is currently an inmate in the Canyon County Jail, asked the judge in his case to order the jail to test him for COVID-19, she said she couldn’t. His attorney tried to compare it to a judge ordering a drug test, and the judge was unconvinced.
So Shockley remained unsure of whether he had COVID-19. He said inmates in the jail don’t have easy access to testing for the new coronavirus.
“There’s lots of people getting sick,” Shockley said. “Nobody’s getting tested.”
The jail has tested inmates who were displaying symptoms, which yielded negative results in each instance except one — the jail’s first and so far only case, confirmed in mid-July, Canyon County spokesman Joe Decker said last month.
However, in breaking with the protocol of other local law enforcement agencies, the sheriff’s office did not announce the case to the public.
The first case in an Idaho prison, for example, was announced by Gov. Brad Little in June. The Ada County Sheriff’s Office posted on its blog about the first case in its jail. Payette County officials sent out a press release when the first person in the county’s jail tested positive, as well as the second.
Decker said he wasn’t sure why officials didn’t have him issue a press release for the jail’s first case.
The inmate was isolated upon notification from the jail’s medical staff, in accordance with CDC guidelines.
The jail, which has an average daily population of about 435 inmates, has still only seen one positive test among inmates, Decker said Thursday.
Shockley isn’t the only inmate who feels the county isn’t taking the virus seriously within the facility. Michael Bidleman said he’d been sick on and off since July and had never been tested for COVID-19.
Shockley and Bidleman said they were feeling better when they talked to the Idaho Press last month. But both described a cycle of getting sick, feeling better and then getting sick again.
“Because we’re stuck in here it just seems like it’s going around in a circle here,” Shockley said.
All jail deputies and staff are required to wear masks/face coverings when working inside the jail, called the Dale G. Haile Detention Center, unless they are working alone in a private office, Decker said.
The county also provides all inmates with two washable face coverings to wear at their discretion, Decker said. Temperature checks are taken twice daily on all inmates and staff, and all new intakes are screened by the jail’s medical staff as well.
Decker said Sheriff Kieran Donahue doesn’t intend to “make any additional statements based on alleged complaints by inmates, and that if the inmates want to file a grievance, they have an opportunity to do so.”
In June, Donahue said new protocols were put in place at the jail to combat COVID-19. These included increased sanitation procedures and screening anyone entering the facility, including the detention staff, law enforcement and incoming inmates. This is contrary to Shockley and Bidleman’s claims.
At the time, Donahue also said they were using a portion of the jail trailers, known as Pod 6, as a quarantine space if any inmate were to contract the coronavirus. The 122-bed facility — which is made out 28 steel truck trailers welded together — was set to open earlier this year for female inmates, and was delayed due to a fencing-requirement issue, which has since been resolved.
Amid the pandemic, the jail saw its inmate numbers drop significantly, reaching as low as 60% capacity. The facility, known for its overcrowding issues, had been consistently over the recommended 80% capacity in the earlier part of the year, reaching as high as 97% in February.
On Thursday, it was just over 81% capacity, with 426 total inmates, a majority of whom were booked in the last 90 days, per the jail’s statistics site.