Zero COVID-19 cases among employees at Davidson County jail shows how herd immunity works

downtown detention center
Posted at 4:13 PM, Feb 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-25 21:30:52-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — The key to beating COVID-19 is herd immunity. As more people develop antibodies, the virus -- with no place to go -- simply dies.

We're not there yet. But, herd immunity is happening in one small place right here in Nashville ... and it's hope for the future.

What we are talking about is a microcosm of how it all happens.

The Davidson County Jail is proving herd immunity protects people ... and saves lives. "This week -- for the first time in 12 months was the first time we did not have a positive employee. We monitor that on a daily basis," Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall said.

For him that is a very big deal. He employs more than one-thousand people, and since early last year at least one -- and often more -- of his staffers would test positive for COVID-19.

But, now? "Symptomatic or positive, neither one. Zero in both categories for the first time in 12 months," Hall said.

Sheriff Hall says staffers who got sick over the past year quarantined and recovered. So, they developed anti-bodies against the virus and returned to work.

"If you take that group ... and then take vaccinations -- I can't prove this, but I think we get pretty close to herd immunity numbers if you start adding that all together."

Dr. William Shaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt agrees. "Right on the money. I love it. I'm with the sheriff."

Shaffner said what's happening with employees at the county jail shows how herd immunity works. "In many places around the country including Nashville hospitalizations are down and positive tests are going down also," Shaffner said.

Dr. Shaffner said we are seeing herd immunity first in places like jails and hospitals where most, if not all, of the employees are offered vaccinations in a controlled setting. You couple those vaccinated with those who have already recovered from the virus and, "absenteeism due to COVID or quarantine for COVID has plummeted. That is a very good sign," said Dr. Shaffner.

He adds that the herd immunity we see among staff at the jail will happen in Nashville and other cities across the country as more and more people get vaccinated. It will be more difficult to achieve herd immunity among inmates because they are constantly coming and going.

Dr. Shaffner does not like to make predictions -- but when asked when this herd immunity might take hold widespread he predicted late summer, and to hopefully then expect a normal Thanksgiving.