For the first time, an inmate in a state-run West Virginia prison or jail has tested positive for COVID-19, Gov. Jim Justice announced Tuesday.
The 62-year-old man is at the Huttonsville Correctional Center and Jail in Randolph County.
He’s in “good condition in medical isolation,” according to a news release from the state Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety. The release said he had shown symptoms.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons has reported that there are five infected inmates at a federal prison in Gilmer County, and one infected staff member at a federal prison in McDowell County.
The state’s American Civil Liberties Union chapter has pushed for releasing inmates who don’t pose immediate safety risks.
“Social distancing measures are impossible in our overcrowded jails and prisons,” ACLU-WV spokesman Billy Wolfe said. “We’ve seen these facilities become hot spots for infection in other states, and there is still time to prevent a similar crisis here.”
A correctional officer at Huttonsville tested positive over the weekend, according to the department. Justice said “these are believed not to be connected.”
DMAPS’ release said “that employee, who is quarantined at home and in good condition, had supervised three other inmates from a separate housing unit during his last shift there May 14 in the recreation yard. Those three inmates have since tested negative.”
Brian Abraham, Justice’s general counsel, said local health officials believe they have identified the person who was “the source that brought the spread into the facility.”
“These individuals were contained within a particular unit,” Abraham said. “Those units are segregated from others and don’t intermingle, so they think they have identified the location, they’ve identified the individuals. They are putting other protective measures in place, such as the inmates wearing protective gear.”
The infected inmate’s housing unit is now quarantined, DMAPS said. Justice said all inmates and staff “in the block that we found this positive” will be “immediately” tested.
DMAPS’ release said testing also will be made available to all Huttonsville employees, and Justice said, if that turns up more cases, all inmates there will be tested.
As of 2 p.m. Tuesday, only 135 tests had been done on inmates at the state’s adult and juvenile prisons and jails. Five of those tests are still pending results.
There were more than 4,000 people imprisoned in the jails alone as of early April, and another more than 200 in Bureau for Juvenile Services detention facilities, as of last week.
Justice attributed going so long without an infected prisoner to “blessings,” not sparse testing.
“You know this disease is with us, it’s everywhere,” he said. “And you know we have had wonderful, wonderful blessings that we have not had an issue in our jail system and everything. We knew it was probably coming, and when it came, we’re trying to run to the fire and make sure we put it out and put it out as quickly as possible.”
Wolfe, of the ACLU-WV, said, “we and our partners also continue to call for testing to be made available for everyone incarcerated or working in the system.”
Justice also announced Tuesday that, effective Thursday, tourists to West Virginia from areas with substantial COVID-19 community spread no longer will be required to self-quarantine for 14 days.
Also at the briefing, the governor announced West Virginia’s 68th COVID-19-related death: an 86-year-old Kanawha County woman.