Everything is on the table: Sheriff's offices prepared for coronavirus

Mar 13, 2020

Erie and Niagara counties are among the public agencies statewide updating contingency plans as the coronavirus continues to spread across the state. Both of the counties’ sheriff’s departments say they are prepared for what may be ahead of them.

Erie County Undersheriff Mark Wipperman.
Credit Thomas O'Neil-White

Erie County Undersheriff Mark Wipperman said preventing infections in the jails is his top priority.

“As far as our response to COVID-19, everything is on the table,” he said. “We will take any steps we possibly can to ensure the safety of all our employees and our inmate population.”

The holding center had a scare a month ago when a man taken into custody at the Peace Bridge was deemed at risk for the coronavirus.

Wipperman leads the office’s COVID-19 Prep Team, tasked with implementing a comprehensive plan to deal with any potential case of the virus which causes COVID-19 from entering the correctional facility in Alden, or the holding center in downtown Buffalo.

Although there are no confirmed cases in Erie County, the confined environment of jail is an ideal ground for a virus to spread. Wipperman is implementing procedures to limit the influx of civilians going in and out of jail.

“The Sheriff’s Office has suspended contact visits,” he said. “Additionally, the Jail Management Division is temporarily suspending all programs delivered by outside providers.”

Those programs include Chaplain and inmate education programs. Attorneys will have access to clients, but only through glass partitions.

Dr. Kevin McGee
Credit Thomas O'Neil-White

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Kevin McGee said the Sheriff’s Office has been following the CDC’s recommendations for disease control.   

“We have an extensive infection control program which we’ve been reviewing constantly,” he said. “It’s been in place for several years, it’s used to surveil our population to make sure that any infectious disease or possible condition does not get into our facility, and if so, it is identified quickly.”

Niagara County also shares a border with Canada, and its Interim Sheriff Michael Filicetti said they are taking recommendations from their Department of Health to stay on top of the situation.   

Without any confirmed cases, Filicetti said they are playing a waiting game but have appropriate procedures in place should a case of the virus present itself.

“Isolation, definitely,” he said. “If they are determined to be positive for the coronavirus we would keep them isolated in the jail and again, our medical department and public health would ensure that we’re following the correct steps to address that situation.”