By Carol Vaughn —
An outbreak of COVID-19 at the Accomack County Sheriff’s Office and the Accomac jail from late December through late January resulted in 52 people testing positive for the virus.
One recent inmate died and a deputy was hospitalized after the virus began spreading during the outbreak.
The Eastern Shore Health District, responding to a request for information made under the Freedom of Information Act, confirmed on Feb. 11 that 28 staff and 24 inmates tested positive for COVID-19 between Dec. 28, 2020, and Jan. 20, 2021.
The request was for information about COVID-19 cases among Sheriff’s Office personnel and inmates at the Accomac jail between Dec. 21, 2020, and Jan. 25, 2021.
Stanley Avon Ames, 63, of Painter, died Jan. 29 at Riverside Regional Medical Center in Newport News after he was hospitalized with COVID-like symptoms while serving time in the Accomac jail for a shoplifting conviction, according to a relative.
He was released from custody while in the hospital and died a few days later.
Ames had diabetes and high blood pressure. He suffered a stroke and was put on a ventilator after being hospitalized, according to his sister.
Ames’ sister, Shirley “Diane” Ames Harmon, said she contacted the sheriff’s office about her brother’s illness and wrote an email to Gov. Ralph Northam in January expressing concerns about overcrowding at the Accomack County jail and about inmates not being given masks.
Harmon said she has not received a response from the governor’s office.
Harmon said Tuesday she is requesting her brother’s medical records from the jail.
“My brother told me on the 27th (of December) that they had a case up there. … He said, ‘He’s right next to me,’” she said.
“I tried to be proactive before all this happened. They dismissed me,” Harmon said, adding, “…As I explained to the jail, I explained to the people at the hospital, he is somebody and he has people that care about him. … He came over as an inmate, but he’s still human.”
Sheriff Todd Wessells said Feb. 8 all sheriff’s office staff are back at work except for one, who was hospitalized after contracting the virus.
“All the inmates are good to go now,” he said.
The National Guard tested more than 170 Sheriff’s Office employees and inmates Jan. 5, according to Wessells.
Results obtained from the health department show 27 people tested Jan. 5 tested positive for the virus. The cases were not broken down by whether the person was a staff member or an inmate.
Cases reported at the sheriff’s office and the jail between Dec. 28 and Jan. 20 were as follows, by testing date:
Wessells in mid-January responded to concerns about whether inmates were being provided masks during the outbreak.
“If somebody is COVID-positive, they are in a COVID bloc,” he said then.
Those inmates are housed exclusively with other COVID-positive inmates, meaning they do not need to wear a mask in the bloc, according to Wessells.
“If they move around in the jail, they are provided masks when they move around the jail,” he said then.
New inmates are housed in a separate bloc and are tested and quarantined 14 days before they are moved into the general jail population.
Additional sanitation and disinfection measures also were being taken in the office and the jail.
“We are in good shape in the jail right now. Everybody new that comes in still gets tested. They are separated from everybody for 14 days after they are tested. We are still taking precautions, trying to stay healthy,” Wessells said Feb. 8.
“Hopefully we can get everybody vaccinated,” he said.
Some staff members have been vaccinated, while “some of them decided not to get them,” Wessells said, adding he has not made it mandatory for staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Wessells said he does require all staff to be vaccinated for hepatitis.
“If you are going to work here, you are going to get that one, because hepatitis will kill you,” he said.
Wessells said he consulted with an attorney for the Sheriff’s Association about requiring staff to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
“We are on strong legal grounds to make people get it, but…they are grown adults and they should be able to make that decision for themselves. And hopefully they choose to get the vaccine,” he said, adding that he himself has been vaccinated.
Wessells also said he has spoken with Gov. Northam about the need to get inmates vaccinated.
“Hopefully that’s coming down the road,” he said.