GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — More than 800 inmates from all over Kent County dropped off by police officers who are in constant contact with every part of the community.

That’s the reality faced by Kent County Sheriff Michelle LaJoye-Young and her jail staff when it comes to protecting against the spread of coronavirus to jail inmates, corrections officers, police officers and the public.

“If we aren’t doing our work, they obviously add an additional element of risk to the community at large,” LaJoye-Young said.

As coronavirus began to emerge, she put a plan together to keep the jail from becoming a source of the outbreak. It’s starts with the arresting officer.

“Checking for fever. We’ve distributed thermometers. And obviously checking for the other symptoms before they bring them to jail,” LaJoye-Young said.

Inmates who do show symptoms are removed from general population immediately. They’re not allowed back until they’re symptom-free for at least 72 hours.

“Additionally, we have a (decontamination) station set up for all area law enforcement on our campus, so that they can bring their cars in, sanitize them, the entire compartment,” LaJoye-Young said. “They can change uniforms if they need to because they’ve been in personal contact with somebody. And then we have a cleaning process for the uniforms.”

So far, it appears the measures have worked.

“We have had a couple of people who tested positive for influenza, which explains the symptoms. But we’ve still followed the same protocol for keeping them separate,” LaJoye-Young said. “We don’t currently have anybody in our population with symptoms, and we’re doing our best to keep it that way.”


The effort to disinfect the jail goes beyond hand-washing and disinfectant spray. The county has been using locally-built technology that uses ultraviolet light to essentially short out the DNA of a virus.

“It uses a very specific wave of ultraviolet light to disinfect air and all surfaces that the unit is operated in,” Larry Perez of Cascade Township-based Skytron explained.

The devices, which News 8 showed you in January, look like bug zappers — and in a way they are. The ultraviolet lights can wipe out a virus in a large room in minutes.

The devices have been used in hospital settings for about a decade. Skytron loaned a unit to the county to test its ability in a jail setting.

The unit is moved room to room through the intake area, medical exam rooms and infirmary at the jail. It’s plugged in, the room is cleared of people and securely locked. The zapper then scrambles the DNA of any living thing in the room, killing any virus.

The makers of the technology are already talking about adapting it for other uses.

“We’re talking about changing the form of it into a smaller version of it that would conveniently fit inside a police or a squad car,” Perez said.

While some inmates awaiting trial won’t be going anywhere soon, others being held on minor offenses may not stay long, so protecting the inmates and those around them from COVID-19 is a major public health concern.

“They’re returning to our community. And if they’re not safe here, when they return to our community, they add an additional risk to the community,” LaJoye-Young said.