No ordinary stay in jail...

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Released after test, Woodall learned he was positive after waiting six days

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  • Of the 21 full-time Elbert County Detention Center Officers working for the Elbert County Sheriff’s Office, 13 have tested positive for COVID-19. (Photo by Jones)
    Of the 21 full-time Elbert County Detention Center Officers working for the Elbert County Sheriff’s Office, 13 have tested positive for COVID-19. (Photo by Jones)
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Michael Dale Woodall
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As Michael Dale Woodall, 46, was being booked into the Elbert County Detention Center in the early morning hours of Wednesday, April 22, he thought he would be detained for maybe a couple of days.

“What I did was wrong,” he readily admits. “But I never thought I’d end up with the virus (COVID-19) because of what I did.”

Woodall, whose residence is listed as Royston (“I get my mail from the post office in Royston, but I actually live in Elbert County,” he explains), was driving at night and he was detained by Elbert County deputies within sight of his driveway at home.

“They asked me about a friend of mine, wanting to know how he was able to buy a house,” said Woodall. “I told them I had no idea. You have to have good credit and you have to get a loan through a bank. I had no idea how he was able to afford to buy a house. But because I couldn’t tell them something they wanted to know, they took me in.”

The charges against Woodall were driving while license suspended or revoked, failure to maintain insurance, probation violation and bondsman off bond (Woodall had posted a $4,000 bond).

“I shouldn’t have been out, but it was at night,” said Woodall, admitting his violation but believing he wouldn’t be caught.

Woodall is familiar with the process of being taken to a detention center. When he talked to The Elberton Star last week, he said he has been in and out of jail enough to know that process.

“They did put that thing (thermometer) on my forehead when they booked me in, but that was the only thing I ever saw them do to see if maybe I had the virus,” said Woodall. “After they have you in there a few days they do an ‘intake’ process where the jail nurse checks you out and the only time I saw anybody wear a mask until Monday night (April 27) was during that intake (Friday, April 24). A nurse, who was elderly, was in the room and she was wearing a mask. I thought, well, that is because she is older and she was just doing that just in case. But until Monday, nobody in that jail was wearing a mask.”

By Monday evening, mask-wearing at the Elbert County Detention Center was standard operating procedure.

•••

Monday, April 27, started like every other day at the Elbert County Detention Center, said Woodall, but neither he nor any other inmate  (approximately 57 in all at that time – records show four inmates had been released on April 27) had a clue what was transpiring amongst the detention center staff.

According to Elbert County Emergency Management Agency Director Chuck Almond, there was an emerging crisis taking shape on Saturday and Sunday, April 25 and April 26.

Two detention center officers, seeking medical attention on their own at a local healthcare facility, had been told over that weekend that their COVID-19 testing had come back positive.

  In addition to those two testing positive, two more officers would be tested and confirmed positive sometime between the weekend and Tuesday morning, April 28.

But on April 27, Elbert County Chief Deputy Darren Scarborough called Almond and told him that a detention center officer and an inmate had tested positive.

According to Almond, from the time that phone call was made until sometime the next day, officials were able to confirm that five detention officers and one inmate had tested positive.

None of that information, according to Woodall, was relayed to the inmates.

“On Monday the guards came around with these little paper masks and told everyone they didn’t have to wear them but they could if they wanted to as a precaution,” said Woodall. “They told us that an inmate had tested positive. When somebody asked about the guards testing positive, they didn’t say anything. The guards are in the jail with us the whole time they are there. They served us our meals.”

Almond said the Elbert County Detention Center Nurse, RN Jeremiah Hocutt, had performed a test on the inmate that had tested positive on Monday. To get the results of that test, Hocutt had to drive to Athens, where he got the testing results back in two hours.

After the notification of the two positive tests known on Monday night (a guard and an inmate), Almond said he and Scarborough and Dr. Paul Buczynsky (who contracts with the Elbert County Detention Center) were trying to determine who could be infected at the jail.

“We were trying to gather information and decide on a plan of action,” said Almond.

After gathering information, Almond said he put in a call to the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) and made an online portal request to the GEMA Emergency Operations Center. Almond said the requests from around the state are “filtered” at the state level, and Elbert County’s Detention Center was scheduled for a Wednesday visit by a Georgia National Guard unit that would test all inmates, detention center officers, detention center maintenance personnel and any other person who had been in the jail.

Local attorney Steve Jenkins said there were attempts to allow him to hold a hearing with an inmate by phone (by video and audio), but for whatever reason the detention center couldn’t connect him.

So Jenkins went to the jail on Thursday, April 23 and conducted a hearing that led to the release of an inmate (records show four inmates were released on April 23). Because of that hearing inside the detention center, Jenkins was tested (and the test came back negative, according to Jenkins).

On Tuesday, Woodall said the inmates were told they were all going to be allowed to be tested “If we wanted to  ... they said we didn’t have to be tested if we didn’t want to.”

The testing option changed the next day, said Woodall, along with the masks the inmates were wearing. Woodall said the paper masks were replaced by cloth masks handed out by the guards.

•••

The Elbert County Detention Center’s staff roster, prior to testing, included a total of 34 officers. Of those officers, 15 tested positive, and 13 of those 15 were full-time officers (two others were part-time).

Out of 57 inmates, 17 (all male) tested positive – including Woodall.

“It was a swab in the nasal cavity,” said Woodall. “It was painful. They had to hold the nasal swab in the nose for a while.”

Woodall said the jail included deputies who were  brought over to the detention center to help with the testing and moving people around.

In all 100 tests were conducted.

“You could tell everybody was scared, especially those deputies,” said Woodall.

Then, two hours after the testing was completed, Woodall said he was released.

“They told me that when the test results came in, they would call me, and they said the results would be back in two to three days,” said Woodall. “That was on Wednesday (April 29). Then when I didn’t hear from anybody, I called back on Saturday (May 2) and they said they didn’t have any results back. So, I called back on Monday (May 4), and they said they didn’t have any results back.”

Then, Woodall said someone called him and told him that they had seen The Elberton Star’s website post about the test results on Monday night.

“So I called’em back Monday and they said they had gotten the test results back about 3:30 in the afternoon,” said Woodall. “I asked about my results. They said it had been chaotic there, but they were sure I would have heard from someone if I had tested positive. But they said  I could call back the next morning if I wanted to make sure.”

On Tuesday, May 5, six days after Woodall tested, he called back to the detention center.

“It is a good thing I wanted to be sure,” said Woodall. “At first I was told I was negative, then I was put on hold. The nurse came on after he double-checked and said I came back positive.”

Woodall said he has shown no symptoms whatsoever.

He was contacted by the Georgia Department of Health, who told him to quarantine himself.

“My father is in his 70s, and I’m staying away from him,” said Woodall. “They told me that I need to isolate myself for 10 days and if I don’t show any symptoms I should be all right.”