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Jail officials suspend visits, take extra steps to protect inmates from COVID-19

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The Cerro Gordo County Sheriff’s Office has an interesting challenge when it comes to preventing illness in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Christmas Behind Bars 7

Members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Mason City visit with a Cerro Gordo County Jail inmates at a Christmas Behind Bars gift-giving event on Saturday, Dec. 21.

Sheriff Kevin Pals says the jail has adjusted its routines to protect both inmates and employees.

“We’ve always had daily cleaning procedures in place,” Pals said. “But we’re ramping that up -- making sure common areas and showers are disinfected and that inmates are regularly cleaning their cells.”

According to the online jail inmate population report on Thursday, the Law Enforcement Center was housing just over 50 inmates. But because the jail often sees daily turnover, a health-screening process has also been implemented.

“All new inmates are now having their temperature taken and screened for symptoms right when they're brought in,” said Pals. “We also want to know if they’ve been ill recently, been exposed to the virus, or traveled out of the country recently.”

Staff members are also being fitted for masks, and visitor restrictions have been put into place until further notice.

All jail visits, including parole and probation officer check-ins, jail programs, and bible study groups have been suspended. Pals said the jail has to allow attorneys to visit with their clients, but they must call ahead and non-contact meetings are strongly encouraged.

As of right now, none of the inmates are sick, but any inmate who begins to display any symptoms of illness will be temporarily isolated from the rest of the population and closely monitored.

“We’re lucky because we have a large enough facility and a generally small population of inmates, so everyone would be able to be safely isolated if needed,” Pals said. “Nobody wants anyone to get sick.”

“We want our inmates safe, we want our staff safe, and we’re trying to be good neighbors to the community as well.”

Lisa Grouette is a Photographer + Breaking News Reporter for the Globe Gazette. Contact Lisa at 641-421-0525 or lisa.grouette@globegazette.com. Follow her on Twitter @LisaGrouette

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