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Inmates, families concerned as Forsyth County Jail goes into lockdown over rise in COVID-19 cases
The Forsyth County Jail in downtown Cumming.

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Amy Shin has been in constant communication with her mother-in-law, Kimberly Rambo, while Rambo serves a 90-day sentence in the Forsyth County Jail. Shin takes care of Rambo’s bills, schedules showings for Rambo’s house that is for sale, and answers her phone calls. Shin also checks in on her health; Rambo, 62, has diabetes, asthma, and fibromyalgia.

“I have to be able to talk to her,” Shin said.

That won’t happen for the next week, and maybe longer, as the Forsyth County Jail suspended the movement of inmates inside the facility on Friday in hopes of curbing an uptick of COVID-19 cases among inmates for the second straight week.

Twenty inmates have tested positive for the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, according to Stacie Miller, spokesperson for the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office, up from 12 cases that the Sheriff’s Office reported last Friday, Aug. 7.

The jail currently has 332 total inmates, Miller said.

“It's not like it's a huge spike and we have it running rampant through the jail,” Miller told the Forsyth County News, “but we want to stop the spread.”

Inmate movement will be restricted until Friday, Aug. 21, and then the jail’s staff and medical team will decide whether it will be extended.

Until then, inmates will stay in their cells except to take a shower or receive medical attention, Miller said. Food will be delivered to inmates, and the jail’s medical staff will monitor the inmates’ health.

Still, families of inmates are worried.

“To me, it’s just very scary,” said Rachyl Grussing, whose brother, Sean, has been in jail since February.

She added, “I can’t imagine being in a situation where you don’t have control over where you get exposed, who you’re seeing, when you get to clean [your cell]. I couldn’t fathom being in that situation.”

As the pandemic took hold in the U.S. in February and March, Rachyl and her parents saw more and more stories about COVID-19 outbreaks in prisons.

“If it does spread there,” Rachyl remembers thinking, “it’s probably not going to be good.”

About a week ago, Sean emailed Rachyl and her parents that he wasn’t feeling well and was going to get tested for COVID-19. The next day he emailed again: the test came back positive.

A few days later, Sean called Rachyl and said the jail had started to restrict inmates’ movements around the facility. He couldn’t go outside. He had to “fight to get his phone calls,” Rachyl said.

On Thursday, Aug. 13, Sean called Rachyl again. The virus had spread, he said, and the jail was going to go on lockdown the next day.

“He didn’t know when he would be able to call me again,” Rachyl said.

That night, Rambo called Shin and delivered the news about the lockdown, too. She didn’t have much information about how many COVID-19 cases were in the jail, just that the facility was going on lockdown for the next seven days.

Shin said Rambo worried about getting infected with the virus, but also about not having access to snacks that help Rambo regulate her diabetes.

“Not only are they about to be deprived of any extra luxury that they already have,” Shin said, “on top of that they’re worried about getting sick, and some of the people in there aren’t in the greatest of health.”

Miller said the jail’s full-time medical staff is still going to closely monitor the health of all inmates. Nurses will deliver medication to inmates. If an inmate is sick, they can be moved to exam rooms that are “highly clean and remain stocked with everything they need,” Miller said.

In addition, the jail is following the Forsyth County government’s COVID-19 safety measures. Staff is expected to wear face coverings, gloves, and wash their hands several times a day while in the facility.

Miller did not know if any jail staff are currently quarantined because of exposure to the virus.

Meanwhile, Shin and other families of inmates won’t hear from Rambo and others until next Friday – maybe longer.

“I just want to make sure she’s OK,” Shin said. “I won’t know anything for a week now. That concerns me, not being able to talk to her and make sure she’s OK.”