RICHMOND, Va. – On Wednesday night, inmates at the Richmond City Jail had the opportunity to ask Richmond and Henrico Health District Director Dr. Danny Avula questions about the virus.
One inmate asked, “When can we expect to return to a state of normality?”
Dr. Avula responded, “Unfortunately, it’s going to be a while.” He added wearing masks and practicing social distancing will need to continue to be a habit for at least the next year.
In the meantime, Sheriff Antionette Irving says the jail is taking precautions like cutting out recreation time and visitation.
“We’ve done some of those things to control the virus from coming into the facility,” Irving said. “The biggest misconception is that we’re not taking care of the individuals that are here and we’re doing the very best we can, but we need your help out there in the public when you speak to your family members to make sure you’re telling them to follow the protocols and do the things we need them to do in here so we can make sure they stay well.”
At the start of September, there were 91 cases at the jail. So far, more than 1,200 tests have been administered to inmates and staff. Irving said some inmates were hesitant to get tested at the start of the pandemic.
“Unfortunately, as we began to have numbers show up here at the Justice Center, once our numbers started to come in, the people started taking it a little more serious that we needed to test to find out whether or not we have COVID or not. We wanted to make sure we continue to encourage them on a weekly basis. I, myself, and my team would go around and talk to residents to see how they were doing and try to convince them it was important that they test,” Irving said.
Dr. Avula echoed that same message.
“Ultimately, it will save both their lives, but also the lives of the people they could potentially expose,” Avula said.
Now, the jail is bracing for the flu season as it coincides with COVID-19. Sheriff Irving said the vaccine is available to all inmates who want a flu shot for free.
Dr. Avula said COVID-19 symptoms can be similar to the flu which is why he recommends the flu vaccine.
“I know that historically there has been a lot of resistance around flu vaccination particularly for African American folks and for good reason. We have a horrible history in our country for the way that we’ve treated black folks as a health care industry. There are examples of where government and public health have done just terrible experiments on African Americans through the 1800s and 1900s so there is a deep and disturbing history that has led to a lot of understandable skepticism,” Avula noted.