LAS VEGAS >> Police in Las Vegas are releasing up to 290 county jail inmates in a bid to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus among a vulnerable inmate population behind bars, department officials said Friday.
Sheriff Joe Lombardo announced he obtained a court order Thursday for a program to free as many as 10% of the 2,900 people held at the Clark County Detention Center in Las Vegas, where one inmate is being held in medical isolation and three others who tested positive for the highly communicable COVID-19 respiratory illness were released previously. At least one of those was taken to a hospital.
Most of the new releases were expected to be made by the end of the day Friday, Deputy Police Chief Chris Jones said.
Eligible inmates included convicted offenders who have served 75% of sentences for non-violent misdemeanors, those being held on technical parole and probation violations, and inmates deemed “medically vulnerable” because of conditions such as heart or respiratory disease or compromised immune systems, Jones said.
People jailed pending court appearances on violent crimes and felonies were not eligible, including people with pre-existing medical conditions.
Violent offenders will not be released, Lombardo said.
The move adds Las Vegas to cities including Los Angeles, New York, metropolitan Detroit and Tulsa, Oklahoma, that have adopted jail inmate early release programs during the coronavirus pandemic.
Critics point to the case of a Florida inmate accused of committing a murder in Tampa, Florida, in March — a day after being released on a coronavirus program from a county jail where he had been held on a low-level nonviolent drug charge.
In Las Vegas, jail guards and inmates also were being issued facial masks, Undersheriff Kevin McMahill said.
Of the department’s nearly 6,000 employees, 127 were tested and 12 were diagnosed with COVID-19, McMahill said. None was hospitalized. Another 87 who may have been exposed to the virus were in home quarantine.
The report from Las Vegas police came on a day the number of reported cases of COVID-19 in Nevada topped 3,500 and the number of deaths rose to at least 142.
But officials in Reno said they put a hold on plans to open as many as 700 temporary hospital beds at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center because they might not be needed.
County health district officer Kevin Dick said a new projection by the Los Alamos national laboratory raised from 50% to 80% the chance that a peak in Nevada coronavirus cases was reached April 15.
“For the state of Nevada, that model is predicting we are at or near the peak,” Dick said.
Most people with the virus experience symptoms such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. Older adults and people with existing health problems can face severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
Gov. Steve Sisolak said Thursday that reopening businesses and relaxing other restrictions will be an incremental process, and he won’t succumb to pressure from critics demanding he allow casinos and nonessential businesses to reopen.
“I’m putting the lives of my fellow Nevadans ahead of dollars,” Sisolak said as the mayor of Las Vegas, the top state Senate Republican leader and others continued their criticism of extended closures that began in mid-March.
Officials report that more than 300,000 out-of-work people sought benefit checks in the month since Sisolak ordered casinos, bars, gyms and restaurant dining rooms closed to prevent people from congregating.