A Denver jail is home to the city’s worst known outbreak of coronavirus infections

Inmates at the Van Cise-Simonet Detention Center now get tested upon arrival.

Inside Denver's downtown detention center. Oct. 11, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Inside Denver's downtown detention center. Oct. 11, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

staff photos

Newly released figures from the state health department show that Denver’s downtown jail is a hotspot for infections of COVID-19.

As of noon on May 4, 86 inmates in custody had tested positive for COVID-19, city officials said, with another 28 in isolation due to possible exposure. Six people in custody had recovered. No one at the downtown jail has died from the disease.

One staffer at the detention center has the disease, according to the latest numbers from the state health department.

The outbreak at the jail is worse than any other single venue in the city, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. The vast majority of outbreaks have occurred at healthcare and skilled nursing facilities, including nursing homes, where far more people have been infected than inside Denver’s jails.

Denver’s jail population is at a historic low. The number of inmates has hovered around 1,060 for the last three weeks, according to daily email updates sent to city leaders. But the deliberate shrinkage has not corked the spread of the virus. On April 13, city officials counted 21 COVID-positive inmates with 56 more possibly infected people isolated from the general population.

Last month, the local union for sheriff’s deputies expressed concern about an unsafe work environment while some recently released inmates complained about unsafe conditions. Denver Health and Hospital Authority staff began testing new inmates on April 27 upon intake, said Daria Serna, spokesperson for the Denver Sheriff Department.

Authorities have released 23 COVID-positive inmates from the downtown jail, city officials told Denverite. Denver County Jail, the city’s other detention facility, has seen four cases of COVID-19 with one person in isolation. The state health department does not list Denver County Jail as an outbreak center.

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