N.J. jail to pause in-person and attorney visits due to COVID surge

Published: Dec. 24, 2021

Starting Monday, the Essex County Jail in Newark will pause in-person visits amid a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases in the county and state.

The policy is meant as a precautionary step due to the latest omicron wave, said Essex County Chief of Staff, Phil B. Alagia, who oversees the county’s Department of Corrections.

As of Friday, 101 officers and 28 inmates have tested positive for COVID at the Essex County Correctional Facility, according to county spokesman Anthony Puglisi. The jail has a total of 700 officers and about 2,300 inmates, he said.

“We’ve noticed numbers in the county and State of New Jersey are the highest they’ve been in a very long time and we want to make sure we take every precaution for the inmates and officers,” said Alagia, who noted that thus far there have been no severe cases reported at the facility.

In-person visits will be allowed Christmas weekend. As of Monday, however, inmates will only be permitted to meet with family or their lawyers via video or over the phone.

“The facility has taken every precaution, including extra cleaning, sanitization, limiting the people that come in and having a prepared medical staff,” added Alagia.

The Essex County Correctional Facility previously paused in-person visits due to the coronavirus pandemic from March 2020 to late spring 2021, officials said. Puglisi said one inmate is known to have died from COVID at the jail in the spring of 2020.

The county’s announcement that it would halt in-person visits came the same day the state reported over 15,000 cases for a second day in a row. For a seven-day period ending Dec. 18, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that over 73% of all new coronavirus cases nationwide were from the new variant.

Case figures have also steadily increased in Essex County, with 2,826 new cases reported on Christmas Eve, according to an online dashboard. The county has confirmed 116,594 cases and 2,892 deaths since March 2020.

Newark, where the facility is located, recently announced new indoor face mask requirements to cull the spread of the virus as well.

Alagia said anyone who tests positive for COVID at the facility is isolated from the rest of the population. Face masks are currently required when inmates leave their housing units and interact with others, he said.

The pause on visits will last for two weeks before Essex County officials re-assess, Alagia said. In addition to access to virtual chats via tablets, the county jail will provide each inmate a free 15-inmate call every day between now and mid-January, officials said.

Puglisi noted that following a quarantine period, eight officers recently returned to duty.

Although, a vaccination rate for the jail was not immediately available, Alagia said the county has vaccinated over 1,000 people at the facility.

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published this page in News and Politics 2021-12-25 03:51:56 -0800