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Federal Judge Denies For Mass Release Of Cook County Jail Detainees, Orders New Safety Measures

CHICAGO (CBS) -- There will be no mass release of detainees from the Cook County Jail in the near future. Thursday a federal judge denied the request for release due to COVID-19 concerns but ordered Sheriff Tom Dart to implement new safety measures to stop the spread of COVID-19.

The Sheriff was ordered to put a handful of policies in place. He said they were already doing all but one of those things. He is also questioning the claim that the Cook County Jail is the largest cluster of cases in the United States.

"If they had let everyone go, oh my God. What would they have done?" Dart said.

Dart considers Thursday's U.S. District Court ruling a win because he says he honestly does not know how they would have safely handled a mass release of detainees from the Cook County Jail.

"Think about if you did do something as reckless as that and just open the doors. How could the community sustain that? They couldn't," he said. 

The lawsuit was backed by more than 100 local organizations calling for the mass release of detainees who are medically vulnerable to the virus. Judge Matthew Kennelly ordered Dart to institute rapid testing, specific quarantine and social distancing policies, and to provide sufficient soap and sanitizer to detainees.

Dart claims they were already doing all but one of the things that were ordered; he admits that they were not putting masks on all detainees in the quarantine unit.

"But if the judge is going to order us to do that then we'll to have to do that," he said. "We're just going to have to see where we can find the medical masks."

Thursday the attorneys and organizations behind the lawsuit said they were disappointed that there has been no order for further releases.

"Leaving people incarcerated in Cook County Jail during this public health crisis is effectively leaving them to die," they said.

The the jail has been called the single largest coronavirus hotspot in the country, but Dart claims their numbers are higher because they are testing more aggressively. He said the numbers also include 150 COVID-positive sheriff's staff‚ some of whom don't actually work inside the jail facility.

"They threw in employees who are police officers who have never been in the jail, clerks who have never been in the jail," he said. "So thats a bit of a problem. My 5-year-old would have nailed the math a little better than they did."

The plaintiffs' attorneys said today the the court's order is "a significant first step to protecting the rights and well being of people at the jail."

The deadline to institute many of these policies is Saturday.

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