Damakant Jayshi

The Marathon County Jail is seeing a surge in coronavirus cases, with at least 51 of 179 inmates housed there testing positive over the past week and a half, officials said.

Thirty-three of the inmates are still under strict Covid protocol, impacting law enforcement activities.

“What this means is now we have to severely restrict the movement within our jail and the ability of our officers to bring in people off the streets for low level offenses,” Marathon County Chief Deputy Chad Billeb told the county’s Public Safety Committee Wednesday. Inmates who tested positive for COVID-19 have been isolated. 

Billeb said 179 inmates are in the jail, but the remainder of the county’s 245 inmates are being housed elsewhere.

“The remainder are in other counties, shelter home, secure detention, home monitor, etc.,” he told Wausau Pilot & Review. Notably, a significant number of inmates are awaiting disposition of their cases by a court system plagued by backlogs.

Twelve of the 51 inmates who tested positive have recovered and are no longer required to adhere to COVID-19 safety protocols and six more are likely to come off the protocols on Thursday, Billed added.

Marathon County is in a “high” category for COVID-19. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cases in the county have gone down by 4% and deaths by 83%, but hospitalization rates are up by 23%.

No inmates or staff who tested positive have been hospitalized at this point, Billeb said, but he noted that the pandemic has caused significant stress on jail staff.

“Covid has been present in jail and has not left the jail at all since the pandemic began last year,” he told the Public Safety Committee. He noted the risks to staff – and through them, to their family and the rest of the community.

The number of law enforcement officers who have died of Covid in 2021 is 289, becoming the leading cause of death of the officers for the second year in a row. The next leading cause of death this year, gunfire, accounted for 56 officers. In 2020, the figures were 253 and 45, respectively.

Damakant Jayshi is a reporter for Wausau Pilot & Review. He is also a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of GroundTruth Project that places journalists into local newsrooms. Reach him at damakant@wausaupilotandreview.com.

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