By Shereen Siewert
Dozens of Marathon County Jail inmates and staff members have either tested positive for COVID-19 or have tests pending, while jail officials are arranging to have the National Guard perform facility-wide testing in the near future, Wausau Pilot & Review has learned.
As of Oct. 28 31 inmates tested positive for COVID-19, said Jail Administrator Sandra LaDu. Seven staff members also tested positive and six more tests were performed on Wednesday.
Now, according to an email from LaDu to local attorneys, tests are being performed daily on every inmate booked into the facility.
In response to the outbreak, officials have been advised by the state to cease all “noncritical movement” in the facility by inmates. That means that unless an inmate is having a medical event or is being released they will remain within their blocks. In addition, all revocation hearings have been temporarily called off, officials said.
Jail officials have implemented several strategies to reduce the jail population amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Police and prosecutors have also made changes that have had an impact on the jail population including summoning defendants into court rather than taking them into custody. Some court functions, including processing of “failure to appear” warrants, have been reduced. Many court appearances have been rescheduled, and probation and parole agents are making an effort to manage clients without jail sanctions.
As of Oct. 29, the Marathon County Jail housed 197 prisoners, down sharply from the average population before the pandemic. By contrast, on March 23 there were 334 inmates, 241 of whom were at the Marathon County Jail, LaDu told Wausau Pilot & Review in a May interview.
Despite those actions, the jail will continue to take new inmates as needed, LaDu said.
“We don’t have the right to stop people from coming to jail if they are arrested,” LaDu said.