Steele County Detention Center COVID-19

After reopening visitation and finger printing services earlier this month, the Steele County Detention Center has once again closed to the public following a positive COVID-19 test result in one of the employees. (Press file photo)

An employee at the Steele County Detention Center has tested positive for COVID-19.

Jail Administrator Anthony Buttera said Friday that an employee at the jail received a positive test result for the novel coronavirus earlier in the week. According to Buttera, the employee went to get tested after someone they had been in close contact with tested positive.

“We are currently working with Steele County Public Health to procure tests to get the entire inmate population and staff tested,” Buttera said. “During the upcoming days everybody in the building will be tested and we will likely extend that out for a couple of weeks to make sure that we are in front of it and keeping it out of the facility.”

Buttera said that public health officials will come to the detention center Monday to test all inmates. In recent days, some of the jail employees have gotten tested, but Buttera said that the remaining staff will have the opportunity to be tested then if they wish.

While the employee is following the Minnesota Department of Health’s quarantine requirements, Buttera said that the positive test result meant that the doors of the detention center will once again be closed to the public.

“We’ve been dragging our feet a long time to reopen, and we finally did in early July for on-site visitation and fingerprinting,” Buttera said. “Since this happened, we have re-shuttered those services and suspended them for the time being.”

While this means the jail is operating in lockdown mode in order to maintain safe social distancing, Buttera said that they are bringing inmates out of their cells on a regular basis so that they may contact loved ones and keep up on hygiene.

“One we get through testing we will have a better picture of what we’re looking at,” he said.

Since March, the personnel at the Steele County Detention Center have been taking multiple measures to keep COVID-19 out of the facility. The work-release program has been suspended, releasing five inmates at the time who were serving sentences with those conditions, and warrants for low-level offenses were quashed and pushed out to a further date in order to keep the in-and-out traffic at the jail at a minimum. Similar to the Minnesota Department of Corrections, local jails banned face-to-face visits at the beginning of the pandemic.

“From the beginning we have been trying to follow all the guidelines given to us through Public Health and the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention],” Buttera said. “We have daily sanitation procedures, we’re wearing masks, we’ve pushed to put of signage about washing hands, and we’ve stopped people from coming in the building.”

The work-release program is still suspended in Steele County, with Buttera saying that they don’t have the capacity to bring people in and house them separately from the rest of the population to keep the risk of exposure down. For regular intake procedures and precautions, Buttera said that new inmates are isolated for a number of days when they are first processed.

While there have been no confirmed cases in county jail inmates throughout the region, two inmates at the Minnesota Correctional Facility-Faribault died in June after testing positive for COVID-19. As of July 14, there have been a total of 205 positive and presumed positive COVID-19 cases at the prison among those incarcerated and a total of five employees.

“If there is a silver lining here, I think it is the renewed importance of making sure that we are doing what we need to do,” Buttera said. “With Minnesota in general I think we may have jumped back into all the going out and being active, and now it seems some of that has maybe dropped off a little bit, even for us as a part of this confirmation of the case that came through.”

Reach Reporter Annie Granlund at 507-444-2378 or follow her on Twitter @OPPAnnie. ©Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota.

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