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Justice announces W.Va. inmate has tested positive for coronavirus

Gov. Jim Justice said an inmate has tested positive for covid-19 at the Huttonsville Correctional Center in Randolph County — the first confirmation of a coronavirus case of an inmate at a West Virginia corrections facility.

That came on day after a corrections officer at the facility was revealed to have tested positively for the virus.

“However, these are believed not to be connected,” Justice said.

When asked for greater detail about that conclusion, Justice deferred to general counsel Brian Abraham, who described the instances as being in different units.

Justice said inmates and staff in the block where the inmate resided will now be tested.

“If we find we have additional positives, we’ll expand that testing to all the inmates in the facility,” he said.

The 62-year-old male inmate is in good condition in medical isolation, according to the state Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety. His case was identified after he began exhibiting symptoms.

That agency said the W.Va. National Guard and the Bureau for Public Health have been enlisted to increase covid-19 testing

Huttonsville houses minimum to maximum security inmates. It can house up to 1,140 inmates, making it the largest prison population in the state.

The corrections officer who tested positive at the facility was described as quarantined at home in good condition.

The part-time officer last worked a shift of fewer than four hours on May 14. He reported experiencing a headache that evening, and was tested for COVID-19 the following day. The test result came back positive over the weekend, according to the state Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety.

State officials said the employee had minimal contact with inmates or staff. He had supervised three inmates on the facility’s recreation yard, from a distance and while wearing a mask, his entire shift, officials said. Those inmates and their unit, a dorm with 44 beds, have been quarantined as a precaution.

The Huttonsville employee is the second among 3,260 personnel in the state corrections system to test positive. The first, a correctional officer at the South Central Regional Jail, had been self-quarantining since April 15 when he tested positive on April 23. That officer has since recovered, been medically cleared after testing negative, and returned to duty.

Huttonsville and all other corrections facilities have personal protective equipment, including enough cloth protective face coverings for every inmate and staff member, according to Military Affairs and Public Safety. All staff are required to wear masks, and that has been extended to Huttonsville’s inmates as well.

Precautionary measures for the corrections system include restricted movement within facilities to avoid contact between housing units; curtailed inter-facility movement and transports; sanitization of eating and gathering areas after each use; more frequent cleaning of high-touch areas; and isolation and quarantine protocols both for new arrivals and for inmates who exhibit symptoms.

Seth DiStefano

Some groups, including the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy think tank, have questioned whether West Virginia is doing enough to head off the spread of virus in its corrections system.

“Social distancing in a prison setting is not possible,” Seth DiStefano, policy outreach director for the Center on Budget and Policy, wrote in a recent blog post.

“Combined with a lack of adequate testing, high levels of quarantined inmates, and increasing population counts, West Virginia’s regional jails are heading in the wrong direction in the fight to stop a potential COVID-19 outbreak.”

In another announcement at today’s coronavirus briefing by the governor, Justice said he will lift an executive order that required quarantine for people who traveled to West Virginia from out of state.

He said a new order will go into effect at midnight Thursday.

That’s the same day restrictions are lifted for a variety of activities in West Virginia, including use of the Hatfield McCoy Trails, whitewater rafting, ziplining and outdoor recreation rentals.

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