First Washington Prison Inmate Tests Positive For COVID-19

Columbia Legal Services has filed a lawsuit against the state of Washington seeking the early release of some inmates to reduce the risk of a coronavirus outbreak. CREDIT: Thomas Hawk / Flickr -TINYURL.COM/HA5H3WP
File photo. The Washington Department of Corrections is reporting the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in an incarcerated person in a state prison. CREDIT: Thomas Hawk/Flickr - TINYURL.COM/HA5H3WP

READ ON

A prisoner at the Monroe Correctional Complex has tested positive for COVID-19, making him the first incarcerated individual in a Washington prison known to have contracted the virus.

Previously, nine Department of Corrections (DOC) staff members, including three who worked at Monroe, tested positive, as did one inmate from that same prison who was already hospitalized in the community for an unrelated medical issue.

According to a DOC press release, the incarcerated individual who tested positive started to feel sick and was taken to a local hospital on Sunday for “rapid COVID-19 testing.”

After the test came back positive, the inmate was returned to the prison and placed in isolation in a single cell. No other details about the inmate were released.

The minimum security unit where he was previously housed was placed on quarantine. The agency said all 119 inmates in that housing unit will be checked regularly for symptoms, including a fever.

Meanwhile, the agency said it will initiate “contact mapping” to try to determine who the inmate may have come into close contact with.

The entire Minimum Security Unit at Monroe has a total of 420 individuals. All staff who work on that unit will now be required to wear N95 mask. DOC recently started issuing expired N95 masks to front line staff, but wearing them is optional.

Separately, as of Friday, two units at Monroe were on “precautionary quarantine” due to concerns about coronavirus, according to the agency. As of Friday, nearly 1,157 inmates across the system were on quarantine and 170 were in isolation.

Last week, Secretary of Corrections Steve Sinclair said the agency had taken a number of steps to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading in the state’s 12 prisons and 12 work release sites. That included suspending visitation, screening all staff coming to work, enforcing social distancing and placing individuals in isolation and quarantine to prevent the risk of an outbreak. But Sinclair was also fatalistic about the potential for COVID-19 to get into the prisons.

“I’ll just anticipate that at some point we’ll have an active case, or more than one,” Sinclair said in an interview.

Advocacy groups, including Disability Rights Washington and the ACLU of Washington, have been pressing Gov. Jay Inslee to implement a strategy of early release to reduce the census in Washington prisons. Other states, like California, have recently announced plans to release some inmates early to reduce crowding.

Washington prisons, with nearly 17,000 incarcerated individuals, are currently running at 100 percent of capacity.

Related Stories:

A member of a Washington Department of Corrections fire crew assisting on a previous controlled burn. Courtesy of Washington DOC

With Fire Season In Full Swing, Corrections Crews Adapt To Pandemic Safety Measures

As wildfire season heats up, Washington fire managers are working out new ways for incarcerated people to help on the fire lines and stay safe during the coronavirus pandemic. Correctional crews have helped put out fires and work in fire camp kitchens for decades. And things are a little different this year. Continue Reading With Fire Season In Full Swing, Corrections Crews Adapt To Pandemic Safety Measures

An image from the Washington State Department of Corrections website page for Coyote Ridge, a prison in eastern Washington with a capacity for 2,468 inmates. CREDIT: Washington DOC

2nd Inmate Dies, National Guard Deployed To Help With COVID Testing At Eastern Washington Prison

Coyote Ridge has the highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases of any Washington state prison. The outbreak is concentrated within the Medium Security Complex portion of the prison, which houses more than 1,800 inmates. The total prison population is typically more than 2,400. Continue Reading 2nd Inmate Dies, National Guard Deployed To Help With COVID Testing At Eastern Washington Prison