Sheriff Kincaid Explains Steps Taken To Protect Inmates and Staff At County Jail From Virus Threat


(3-21-20) In a telephone call yesterday, Fairfax County Sheriff Stacey A. Kincaid said she’d taken several steps to protect staff and inmates at the county’s Adult Detention Center from the COVID-19 threat. The jail can hold as many as 1,260 prisoners. It’s estimated that 20 percent have a known mental illness.

No local inmates have been found to have the virus.  Some jurisdictions, mostly in California, are releasing inmates being held for minor, non-violent offenses or reducing bail, but that has not happened in Fairfax. Sheriff Kincaid explained that the decision to free inmates would be made by the judges who ordered them detained, not her department.

I’d asked the sheriff about precautions after learning that inmates in federal prisons had to buy soap to wash their hands and after posting complaints by a prisoner in the nation’s “Super Max” penitentiary in Florence, Co., citing unsanitary living conditions.

Inmates at the Fairfax jail are being told to wash their hands repeatedly during the day, are not charged for soap, and cleaning at the jail has been increased, as has inmate screening.

While all visits to the jail have been curtailed to protect staff and visitors, inmates are being offered twice-a-week, 15 minute phone calls without being charged.

In an email,  the Sheriff’s Department Public Information Officer Andrea Ceisler elaborated on what actions the Sheriff has implemented.

“If an inmate were to be a presumptive case,” Ceisler wrote, “we would hold them in isolation for up to 14 days with ongoing Health Department consultation. For testing, we would send a respiratory specimen to the Health Department.

Procedures when an arrestee enters the detention center

Ceisler wrote:

When an arrestee is brought into the ADC from the sally port, deputies conducting the initial pat search will ask the individual if they have traveled to one of five countries (China, Iran, Italy, Korea or Japan) within the past two weeks. If the answer is no, the deputies will ask the individual if they have knowingly been in contact with anyone traveling to one of those five countries. They will also ask if the individual has a fever, dry cough or shortness of breath. If any of the responses are yes, a deputy will summon the receiving nurse to conduct a more in-depth screening. If the nurse determines the individual is possibly infected with COVID-19, the nurse will place a mask on the individual, who will be isolated in a receiving cell after the booking process has been completed. We will immediately contact the Health Department for consultation.

Cleaning at the jail

In unoccupied areas of the ADC, we are using a hospital grade mister that kills bacteria and viruses. In high touch areas, such as hallways and elevators, we are wiping down walls, doors and door knobs and will continue doing so.

Our cleaning products are EPA qualified to kill bacteria and viruses. We have been reminding inmates that the best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is to wash their hands before and after attending programs, before and after visiting, before and after meals, and after using the restroom. The hand washing message is running at the bottom of the TV screens in all of the cell blocks. The cell blocks are cleaned every day.

Visits have been suspended

This week we suspended personal visiting until further notice. In lieu of visiting, we are giving every inmate two free 15-minute calls per week. We also suspended volunteer-led programs, but we are exploring options to use electronic platforms to conduct some of these activities remotely. We do have a full-time chaplain who is still onsite. He is doing the best he can to provide one-on-one and small group faith-based services for all the religions represented in the ADC.

Alerts are posted on the sheriff’s website. 

One of the Sheriff’s harshest critics, who recently called for her removal from office, complimented Kincaid in a recent Facebook post.  Kofi Annan wrote:  “I want to take a moment to compliment Sheriff Kincaid and the staff of the Fairfax County Detention Center for taking some impressive measures to limit the spread of the virus among inmates and staff.” Annan resigned last year as director of the local NAACP.

About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.