3 staff, 2 residents at Kent Co. juvenile detention test positive for COVID-19

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A Kent County spokesperson confirmed Friday afternoon that three staff members and two residents at the Kent County Juvenile Detention Center on Ball Avenue NE have tested positive for COVID-19.

“According to the last medical report, they were all mildly symptomatic and doing as well as can be expected under the circumstances. None needed to be hospitalized or seek additional treatment,” Lori Latham, Public Relations Director for Kent County, said.

Latham said when the first of the five, a youth specialist at the center, began showing symptoms, he quarantined at home. On March 25, he tested positive. The county immediately identified and isolated anyone who had high-risk contact with him at the facility.

Latham said that initial staff member had little direct contact with residents on his shift.
However, when a second staff member, also a youth specialist, tested positive on March 31, the county determined 12 residents had had high-risk contact with him.

Latham said “high-risk” contact with an infected individual is defined as direct physical contact (like shaking hands), unprotected direct contact with secretions (being sneezed on), or spending 15 minutes with the individual, less than 6 feet apart.

All twelve of the impacted residents were quarantined and isolated from other residents.

On April 2, two of the twelve tested positive.

Those two residents are currently in isolation, while the remaining ten are in quarantine.

On Friday morning, a third staff member tested positive.

The center currently houses around 40 juveniles after Kent County courts looked for opportunities to release low-risk offenders. According to Circuit Court Administrator Andrew Thalhammer, judges previously reduced the facility’s population by around 20% to allow for increased social distancing amid the COVID-19 outbreak. Thalhammer told News 8 unless juveniles posed a “substantial and immediate safety risk” to the community, they were sent home.

Latham said Kent County had taken additional steps to protect the Center before the first staffer tested positive nine days ago.

Those precautionary steps included limiting visitors, enhancing cleaning protocols and conducting health screenings via survey on anyone who entered the facility.

“If an individual answered ‘yes’ to any of the survey questions, their temperature was taken,” Latham said.

While the Center began surveying entrants on March 15, it did not begin taking the temperatures of everyone who entered the building (regardless of their survey answers) until Gov. Whitmer’s executive order on March 29.

When asked if anyone had dropped the ball on efforts to protect the juvenile detention center, Latham said, ‘no.’

“Were staff taking every precautionary measure possible? Absolutely,” Latham said.

“But you need to remember, this is juvenile detention. There are going to be instances where they need to be closer than six feet to diffuse a situation. There’s nothing they could have done differently to prevent where we are today … As we know, (COVID-19) is in the community and is spread even when people are not symptomatic.”