Between late September and mid-October, prison officials reported 28 new cases and, by October 16, 2020, 20 women were being housed in a gym set aside for COVID-19-positive prisoners. Speaking anonymously, prison staff have indicated that the prison administration was not testing prisoners for the virus to reduce the number of reported positives.
A staff member told Side Effects that the prison had access to a rapid testing machine, but it was not being widely used. Additional testing could help protect elderly prisoners and those with pre-existing conditions, but it was not being done.
“Why wait until somebody dies,” asked the staff member. “If you knew these people were positive, you would isolate them, right? To me, it’s still like, ‘Okay, we just don’t want to know.’”
The lack of testing also endangers prison staff, 10 of whom contracted COVID-19 between mid-September and mid-October and some of whom had to arrange their own testing privately, according to the staff members. They added that staff who live with a COVID-19-positive person or were otherwise exposed to an active case are nonetheless being required to report for work.
However, as of mid-October, only 24 staff members had been tested.
“There’s really no way to know who does and does not have it,” said one staff member who noted that one high-level prison employee was tested while other staff were turned away. “That upset people.”
The staff members said employees were too afraid of retaliation to speak up and noted that there appeared to be more COVID-19 cases among the prisoners than is being reported.
“Most of the units now have a case or two,” said a staff member on October 9. “We’re by no means slowing down. We had four new positives today.”
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