The total number of COVID-19 cases at the Cook County Jail surpassed 400 on Wednesday, as data compiled from the New York Times now shows it has become “the largest-known source of U.S. infections.”
Data released by the Cook County Sheriff’s Office on Wednesday evening shows 251 detainees have so far tested positive, as have 150 Sheriff’s Office employees. The jail’s outbreak has spread rapidly in recent weeks following its first confirmed case on March 22.
“Sheriff’s officers and county medical professionals are aggressively working round-the-clock to combat the unprecedented global coronavirus pandemic,” the Sheriff’s Office said on its website.
On Sunday, 59-year-old Jeffery Pendleton became the jail’s first detainee to die due to complications related to COVID-19. By Tuesday, The New York Times – which has tracked data about the largest outbreaks in the country – had concluded the Cook County Jail was responsible for more positive tests than any other location.
“The outbreak appears to confirm the concerns of many health officials, who warned that America’s overcrowded and unsanitary jails and prisons could be a major source of spread,” the Times wrote. “Those warnings prompted the authorities across the country to release thousands of inmates to try to slow the infection, save lives and preserve medical resources.”
Local activists have been pushing for weeks for the mass release of detainees at the jail, which has seen its population drop by more than 1,000 over the last month down to a historic low of less than 4,500 detainees.
On Thursday, a federal judge rejected a call by advocates seeking the mass release of “medically vulnerable” detainees at the jail. But he is ordering jail officials to enforce social distancing among detainees and provide them with hand sanitizer and masks as they deal with the outbreak. (Read the full story here.)