'I'm terrified': families of inmates express fear amid coronavirus pandemic

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KKCO) - Some of the most alarming coronavirus numbers are in prisons and nursing homes… here in Colorado, our largest outbreak was at the Sterling Correctional Facility. Here at the Mesa County Jail… No cases to report, only concern.

The pandemic has us missing our families and worried for our loved ones near and far… That's the case of Stephanie Johnson, who's worried about her fiancée in the Mesa County Jail.

"I'm constantly scared that I'm going to get that phone call that he's been rushed to the hospital,” says Stephanie Johnson, fiancée of an inmate at Mesa County Jail.

I met Stephanie in a parking lot, along with three other women… all worried about their husbands, boyfriends, or sons in the jail.

"It's just hard. That's my only child. And I can't see him,” says Patricia Thompson, mother of an inmate at Mesa County Jail.

Two of the women didn't want to go on camera, but they all shared the same message: the jail is not doing enough to protect their loved ones from the coronavirus. They're worried about overcrowding, "They put four to a cell, which is no room at all for each person,” says Patricia.

But the Mesa County Sheriff's Office considers cellmates in these close quarters to fall within guidelines of Mesa County Public Health: keeping a distance of 6 feet from people who are not members of your household. Public Health agrees.

The Sheriff's Office's screening process is proactive. "A nurse will truck to that individual and screen them for any health concerns. Now, there's a focus on any COVID related symptoms or any travel concerns," says Megan Terlecky with the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office.

They’re isolating anyone with red flags and so far, it's worked. "We've had zero positive tests from any inmates and any staff from the Mesa County Sheriff's Office,” says Terlecky.

But for Stephanie, and for others like her, that's not much comfort, "I'm terrified, more than anything.”

"They're not under a death sentence there, the majority of them anyway, but it kind of seems like they are at this point,” Patricia says.

The Mesa County Sheriff's Office says the jail has medical staff on-site 24/7 and they're coordinating with Mesa County Public Health to keep inmates safe.

The Mesa County Sheriff's Office also says that jail populations are low for them, at around 300 compared to about 600 two years ago.