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Class Action Lawsuit Over COVID at Chesapeake, MD Jail Reaches Settlement

It alleged that, in less than one month, 156 of the about 400 prisoners, and 78 of 220 staff at CDF tested positive for COVID. “Defendants’ actions have fueled this outbreak, and they also have failed to take appropriate action in response,” the lawsuit alleged.

CDF is overcrowded because it was designed in 1922 for single-person cells, but it now operates as two-person cells. The conditions are also deteriorated with broken windows and temperatures around 55° Fahrenheit. The complaint said CDF failed to take basic pandemic prevention precautions recommended by the Centers for Disease Control.

It failed to implement the use of face masks by staff or prisoners, social distancing, and sufficient quantities of cleaning supplies. Prisoners not only lack soap and hand sanitizer, they did not have “the means to clean their cells. CDF staff does not clean—or arrange for the cleaning of—common areas in between recreation sessions, when up to 12 residents are out in the common area at a time.”

CDF regularly mixed positive and negative prisoners into units together. Prisoners who tested negative for COVID were forced into cells vacated by prisoners who tested positive without the cell being cleaned. In some cases, it did not move a positive testing prisoner out of a cell with a negative prisoner for two days after the test returned. This resulted in some cellmates contracting COVID. Delays in providing care for positive testing prisoners frequently occurred.

Vaccinations for COVID were denied to the prisoners at CDF, even those deemed to be high-risk. Yet, the Maryland’s vaccination plan provided for those prisoners to be vaccinated.

“This outbreak is a tragedy,’’ the lawsuit stated. “It was entirely foreseeable, given the failure of Defendants to act, and it was preventable.”

A quick resolution was met, with the settlement being filed in the court on April 15, 2021. Its first term provided for the treatment of high-risk prisoners as defined by the CDC or those who are over 65. Immediate isolation and quarantine for positive testing prisoners was required, as was the cleaning of cells. The defendants are also required to assure the temperatures in cell areas are “at or above 65 degrees” for prisoners in a quarantine or isolation.

Weekly COVID testing of all prisoners and staff at CDF must be conducted, unless the person has tested positive for COVID in the preceding 90 days. Upon a prisoner testing positive, CDF must place the prisoner in medical isolation and then quarantine close contacts for 14 days. High-risk close contacts must be placed into a single cell. Close contacts are to be COVID tested “as soon as possible after Defendants learn of the positive result.”

The settlement had provisions for separating “cohorts.” For instance, newly admitted prisoners, confirmed positive prisoners, general population, or close contacts are to be kept separate from each other. As much as possible, CDF must use its space to spread prisoners out to achieve single cell housing. Prisoners must also be provided one bar of soap “at least every two weeks.” Proper cleaning materials for cells and common areas must be provided.

All CDF prisoners were to receive vaccinations by May 1, 2021. Limits were placed on giving less than two hours of out-of-cell time. Each prisoner was to be issued two washable face masks, and prisoners and staff are required to wear them properly. The settlement expires 180 days after the COVID-19 state of emergency ends in Maryland.

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Related legal case

Catchings v. Wilson