As of Tuesday evening, 76 people at Huttonsville Correctional Center, in Randolph County, have tested positive for COVID-19. Results for more than 650 others are still pending, according to data posted by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources.
So far, the prison is the only correctional institution in the state to conduct facility-wide testing for inmates and staff. At Gov. Jim Justice’s Tuesday morning news conference, he said the increased testing came at his urging. Initially, only inmates housed in the same block as the first inmate who tested positive for the virus last week, a 62-year-old man, were tested.
Betsy Jividen, commissioner of the Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said Tuesday morning that results for the Huttonsville inmates whose tests are still pending should be received and reported over the next few days.
Justice said he and state-level health experts expect the increased testing at Huttonsville to lead to an increase in the state’s overall infection rate but that it’s a necessity and they are prepared.
“We’re on it. Our people are standing right on top of it,” Justice said. “We need to take care of these people [in jails and prisons], just as we’d take care of ourselves, because that’s what they deserve. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
As of Tuesday evening, nearly 88,000 West Virginians had been tested for COVID-19, according to the DHHR. Of those, 1,854 — or 2.1% — have tested positive, and 74 people across the state have died from the virus.
Not counting Huttonsville, only 43 of the thousands of inmates currently held in West Virginia prisons have been tested for COVID-19. All have been negative. In the state’s jails, 91 inmates have been tested, with no positives, and, in juvenile centers, only three minors have been tested for the virus.
Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety spokesman Lawrence Messina said in an email Tuesday that Corrections and Rehabilitation has no intention of significantly changing its response to the threat of COVID-19 in the jail or prison systems.
Messina said leadership will continue working with the DHHR and local health departments when appropriate, and potential future testing at correctional facilities will be pursued on a case-by-case basis. Those at the agency will determine an approach for testing based on recommendations from health experts.
Huttonsville’s initial positive COVID-19 case was confirmed in a part-time employee last week. According to a news release from the department, the subsequent positives confirmed in inmates at the prison are believed to be unrelated.