COVID cluster in sheriff’s office

  • COVID update
    COVID update

Active COVID-19 cases have edged up, with four more in schools and a cluster identified at the Macon County Sheriff’s Office.

Reports of a cluster at the Macon County Sheriff’s Office preceded news of four new positive cases in Macon County Public Schools. Active positive cases in Macon County totaled 31 as of Oct. 5, up from 23 a week earlier.

Macon County Public Health identified four positive COVID cases in schools between Oct. 2 and Oct. 5, two at Franklin High School and two at East Franklin Elementary School.

On Wednesday, Sept. 30, Macon County Public Health said it had discovered a cluster, defined as five or more people with illness onset or positive test results within a 14-day period, among Macon County Sheriff’s Office employees. 

Sheriff Robert Holland said the positive employees are mostly doing well.

“It varies. We’ve had employees with the sheriff’s office that are anywhere from asymptomatic to mild to, I don’t know if I’d say severe, but much more sick than the others,” he said. “I talk to each of my employees daily as much as possible to check on them and see how they’re doing, as well as the health department staying in communication with them. Most of them have started feeling much better, and several of them have contacted us eager to come back to work.”

Of the roughly 10 Sheriff’s office employees to test positive in the past few weeks, Holland said that the patients by and large are in good spirits, and none have checked in to the hospital as a result of the virus. 

The county health department has spent much of the past few weeks tracking down people who had recently been in close contact with the employees.

“We interview each person that is determined to be positive, and we talk to them about their infection period two days prior to the start of their symptoms,” said county health director Kathy McGaha. “We ask them to go back and think through with us who they were in contact with. … Our staff has gotten really good about helping people to remember two days prior and who they’ve been around. We talk about length of time they were around people, were they wearing a mask, was the other person wearing a mask?”

While many deputies come in contact with large numbers of people due to the nature of their job, McGaha said the number of people each employee had been in contact with varied largely depending on whether the employee had been working during their infectious period and what their assignments were on those days. The positive test results came in piecemeal over the past few weeks, rather than all at once over a few days. 

“It was definitely spaced out,” Holland said. “We’ve had exposures or positive cases since the beginning of the pandemic back in March. This is not the first time we’ve dealt with COVID, but it is the first time we’ve dealt with multiple cases of COVID. The reality of it is that these officers and these employees work closely together daily, so when you spend 12 hours or more with those employees working together, it increases your potential for exposure.”

In examining the spread of positive cases among his employees, Holland said that both the department’s 26 patrol officers and 28 support staff have been affected. The department has followed Centers for Disease Control guidelines regarding mask usage, which require masks to be worn within six feet of another person in indoor settings. 

Holland said the department’s command staff encourages mask use in outdoor settings and would consider enacting a mask mandate if the positive tests continued, but for now the department has a practical reason for not requiring mask use by patrol officers.

“[For] those people who have never been in a situation where they’re struggling with somebody and have a mask that gets in your eyes, gets moved around and shoved in your face to where you can’t see when you’re struggling with somebody, it’s pretty uncomfortable,” Holland said. “Some of these guys are concerned for their own safety when they’re going up to approach somebody. They don’t know what they’re going to encounter.”