CHARLESTON, W.Va. — All inmates within the South Central Regional Jail are undergoing Covid 19 testing after an outbreak last weekend. Corrections Commissioner Betsy Jividen said initially five inmates tested positive and they were about to launch targeted testing, but during the meeting to discussion of the plan it was learned three more positives had been confirmed. According to Jividen that’s when the call was made to test everybody in the building.
“That’s going to enable us to figure out how to quarantine, who can be in what housing unit, where we have it and what we need to do to get a handle on it. That’s what helped at Huttonsville immensely,” Jividen said Tuesday.
The blanket testing at South Central should be done by Wednesday and results available by Friday. Eight inmates and one staff member were positive. All are in quarantine as the testing goes on. At the Southern Regional Jail, one inmate was positive and 10 staff members. The inmate has since recovered. According to Corrections Commission data there are 17 positives known in the system at those two facilities.
Governor Justice spoke about testing everybody in the corrections system again. Earlier this year during the pandemic an outbreak at the Huttonsville Correctional Center in Randolph County prompted the system wide tests. Jividen said that call hasn’t been made at this point, but if it comes, they are prepared.
“We have a blueprint. We were so successful the last time we did it, we managed to do it ahead of schedule and had great results. Our track record has been good and we’re doing whatever it takes to address it,” she said.
Prison and jail settings are among the more difficult circumstances. Inmates at South Central were placed on lockdown when the first positives were found to avoid dangerous interaction which could spread the virus. But, inmates can’t be locked down forever. Jividen noted they have been able to implement protocols which have been effective in keeping the virus largely out of the prisons and regional jails until recently. She blamed most of it on community spread just as everywhere.
But the challenges presented are difficult. Most operations are overcrowded and it makes it more difficult to separate and quarantine in facilities housing twice the number of inmates they were designed to house. The virus also cuts into the already difficult manpower issue for the agency. But Jividen said even with corrections officers off the job in mandatory quarantine, they are still finding ways to make it work.
“I want people to know the contribution of the leadership of the facility down to the rank and file. They’ve been working non-stop and ar really and truly front-line responders. They are making sacrifices to their family and taking the risk,” she said.