CoronavirusCrimeNewsThe SouthSider

COVID-19 forcing some jails, police departments to close

(AP) — The coronavirus surge is creating problems for Missouri police departments and sheriff’s offices, forcing some to temporarily close to the public and prompting others to relocate jail inmates.

Springfield police shut down on Monday the lobby of the police station, citing “a staffing shortage, made worse recently due to the impact of COVID-19,” according to a news release. It wasn’t clear how many employees have the virus. A spokeswoman said she did not immediately have that information.

St. Louis police declined to disclose information on employee health. But St. Louis County Police spokeswoman Tracy Panus said 108 of the department’s 1,293 employees had tested positive since the onset of the pandemic. In Kansas City, 195 police employees of 1,396 tested have had the virus, spokesman Jacob Becchina said.

Smaller departments are feeling the impact too. COVID-19 illnesses and quarantines left the Howard County Sheriff’s Department with just one part-time and two full-time deputies, so the sheriff’s office has been closed since Thanksgiving, Presiding Commissioner Jeremiah Johnmeyer said. The available deputies are still working from their cars and homes.

The central Missouri county also transferred its roughly 10 inmates to nearby Cooper County.

“We only had one inmate that tested positive,” Johnmeyer said. “But our staff — several of them tested positive, so we didn’t have the manpower to run the jail.”

Among those who tested positive were Sheriff Mike Neal. Johnmeyer said Neal and other members of the department had flu-like symptoms but appeared to be on the mend. He said the office was expected to reopen Thursday, the same day inmates are expected to be returned.

The sudden surge in illnesses “caught everybody off guard,” Johnmeyer said.

Howard County isn’t alone. In northeastern Missouri, Pike County sent its 26 inmates to Audrain County due to a staffing shortage at the Bowling Green jail that was made worse by a recent outbreak of the coronavirus. Audrain County Sheriff Matt Oller wrote on Facebook that the Pike County inmates arrived in late November. It wasn’t clear when they would be sent back.

Pike County Sheriff Stephen Korte was away from the office Monday but said in a news release that the inmates had been transferred “because of staffing shortages and COVID-19 quarantines.” He said it took at least 10 employees to operate the jail, but only seven were available.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services reported on Monday 2,658 additional cases of the virus, bringing the total to 324,956 since the pandemic began. The state reported two additional deaths and 4,194 since the onset of the pandemic.

The number of hospitalizations statewide dropped to 2,550 from 2,708 a day earlier, but the state COVID-19 dashboard said just 20 percent of beds were available statewide, and just 18 percent of intensive care unit beds were available.

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