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KSMU is dedicated to broadcasting critically important information as our community experiences the COVID-19 pandemic. Below, you'll find our ongoing coverage.

Even After An Outbreak In The Howell County Jail, Inmates Refuse COVID Vaccine

(Photo credit: mikecogh via flickr)
Ozarks Public Radio
(Photo credit: mikecogh via flickr)

After a COVID-19 outbreak at the Howell County Jail in south-central Missouri last month, authorities say they’re doing the best they can with inadequate facilities. They’re also offering the vaccine to inmates—but there’s not much interest. 

According to Corporal Neil Sletten of the Howell County Sheriff’s Office, one inmate became ill on June 12 and was treated at Ozarks Heathcare, the hospital in West Plains.

In the days that followed, five others in the jail ultimately tested positive and were placed in isolation.

Howell County Sheriff Brent Campbell says the isolating inmates were allowed back into the general jail population on June 28. Campbell says the jail is cleaning more and doing temperature checks, but he says social distancing is impossible in that facility.

According to a jail supervisor, Rhaquinda Guy, a vaccine clinic is scheduled for the incarcerated individuals later this month. But she says out of the 48 inmates who were offered a vaccine, 47 have declined.  Guy says testing is done through the local health department only when inmates or staff experience symptoms.  Currently, she said, no one appears to be sick.  

The director of the Howell County Health Department, Chris Gillam, says he advised the jail to treat staff and inmates who had been in contact with someone with COVID symptoms as “presumptive positive.”   He also recommended the facility keep tests on site. 

KSMU has requested interviews with individuals currently in the Howell County Jail through an attorney.

As of Thursday, 17.9% of Howell County’s total population was fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.

According to the Howell County Health Department's website, free, walk-in Covid-19 vaccination clinics occur every Friday from 8:00-11:00 a.m. and 1:00-4:00 p.m. at the health department offices on 180 Kentucky Blvd. in West Plains. 

Josh Conaway is a graduate of Missouri State University with a B.A. in Political Science and an M.A. in International Affairs. He works as a news reporter and announcer at KSMU. His favorite part of the job is exploring the rich diversity of the Ozarks and meeting people with interesting stories to share. He has a passion for history and running.
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