Illinois coronavirus update: Judge orders more social distancing at Cook County Jail

CHICAGO (WLS) -- A federal judge has ruled COVID-19 safety changes at the Cook County Jail must remain in place while new social distancing is ordered to keep detainees and jail personnel safe.

The Cook County Jail is one of worst COVID-19 outbreaks in the nation, with hundreds of COVID-19 cases diagnosed in the past month. So far, six detainees and one correctional officer have died from the virus.

In an ongoing civil rights lawsuit, U.S. District Court Judge Matthew Kennelly entered a preliminary injunction Monday that reinforces previous jail safety changes, including mandated social distancing on intake and sanitation procedures.

The ruling also significantly limits the use of double-inmate cells and group detainee housing and mandates prompt testing for all detainees with COVID-19 symptoms or exposure.

"It seems unlikely this court is going to order the mass release of prisoners. What is clear the judge is saying he's gonna give these measures time to take effect," ABC7 Legal Analyst Gil Soffer said.

In a statement, Cook County Sheriff's officials said the ruling "essentially ordered the Sheriff's Office to continue measures we put in place prior to the filing of this lawsuit, including formalizing the social distance planning that is underway."

"The most important thing to be aware of - and something this court is clearly aware of - is the law does not require you eliminate the risk," Soffer said. "The law requires that you take reasonable steps to contain the risk, given all the circumstances of operating a jail."

The judge also declined to order the detainee releases on home confinement, instead focusing on safety and hygiene measures to reduce transmission.
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