Update: Commissioners have since learned the test results were both negative.
A Washington County jail inmate was tested for the novel coronavirus, and while officials wait for the results of the test, the inmate has been isolated inside a negative-pressure room inside the facility.
Commission Chairman Diana Irey Vaughan, who is also chairman of the Washington County Prison Board, said a member of the corrections facility staff was also awaiting results from a test for COVID-19.
Irey Vaughan said she was told it might take five to seven days for test results to arrive.
A woman who got in touch with the Observer-Reporter had spoken with her children’s father, who is an inmate at the jail. He told her he asked to be tested for the new coronavirus but was rebuffed.
She described his symptoms as shortness of breath, cough and a migraine, and said she was told that other inmates had made similar requests for a COVID-19 test without receiving one.
Warden Edward Strawn relayed an inquiry from the newspaper to Irey Vaughan, who said, “The medical community has strict guidelines for testing. We are presenting for testing those who meet that criteria.”
The population of the Washington County jail, which was 351 as of a prison board meeting March 18, had decreased to 274 as of Monday, Strawn wrote in an email. Inmates charged with non-violent offenses and those with alternative sentences were being sent home with electronic monitors, commonly known as ankle bracelets.
There are “a number” of other Washington County employees whose jobs are outside the jail who have been tested for the novel coronavirus, but reporting the results of the test to the employer is not required, Irey Vaughan said.
“We have received no information about a positive test,” she continued.
According to the provisions of Pennsylvania’s 1955 Disease Prevention and Control Act, the state Department of Health is required to maintain confidentiality of reports and records.
The 11-page law indicates the state “shall be responsible for the prevention and control of communicable and non-communicable disease in any municipality which is not served by a local board or department of health.” Most of the counties in Pennsylvania, therefore, rely on the state Department of Health rather than one of their own.
In the absence of its own health department, Washington County would not, in the middle of a pandemic, be able to set one up quickly enough to be able to handle the coronavirus situation.
Irey Vaughan said if the county’s population increases in the 2020 U.S. Census to the point that Washington become a third-class county, it may have to institute its own health department.
Counties that have health departments are Allegheny, Bucks, Chester, Erie, Montgomery and Philadelphia. Municipal health departments are found in Allentown, Bethlehem, Wilkes-Barre and York.
“I do feel the state has put our residents at greater risks by withholding information,” Irey Vaughan opined. “All they need to say is an (affected) individual works in this municipality and lives in this municipality.”