Coronavirus: California Prisons Hunker Down Along with the State

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, like other state correctional institutions, has undergone ‘unprecedented changes’ to protect its staff and inmates from contracting spreading the coronavirus.

by News Staff / March 20, 2020

Large-scale prisons are cities unto themselves and as such are taking some drastic steps that states and cities are doing to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has undertaken a number of those steps to protect inmates, and staff and their families.

“Unprecedented changes are being implemented in order to protect all those who live and work inside our state correctional facilities,” wrote Dana Simas, CDCR press secretary, in an email. “We will continue to make changes to our operations based on updated guidance from government and public health officials.”

As of Friday morning, two confirmed cases of coronavirus, among staff, have been reported within CDCR institutions, one at San Quentin State Prison and one at California State Prison, Sacramento. All inmates visiting have been cancelled statewide until further notice and that includes overnight family visits. Some staff are working from home, where appropriate, but some staff are vital to maintaining safety and providing care for the inmates. 

Those staff, upon entering the facilities, must verbally confirm that they do not have new or worsening symptoms of a respiratory illness, according to the press release. If anyone answers yes, they are sent home.

Transfers of inmates between CDCR facilities have been restricted, parole suitability hearings have been postponed and peace officer exams have been suspended through April 6.

The release said that during cold and flu season, quarantine is not uncommon and can be used as a precautionary tool to limit the potential spread of any illness. CDCR is using an external lab for testing and is getting results in 48 to 72 hours, and priority testing is being given to those older than 65.

In the event of a positive test, the CDCR will follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, including isolation and quarantine, and work with outside partners to ensure appropriate care is provided. “Due to the unique factors of each institution and the population each houses, the department remains agile in our response to any potential case of COVID-19 based on factors and risk related to that case,”Simas said in another release.

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) has been preparing for the virus “since earlier this year,” doing a table-top exercise and engaging in discussions with the Ohio Department of Health, according to a press release. Only staff and mission-critical contractors (for food, construction and medical needs, for example) are allowed onto the facilities and all new inmates undergo coronavirus screening.

The ODRC is educating all staff and inmates — via email, posters and videos — about signs and symptoms of the virus and how to protect from getting it. Electronic health records are being updated to include coronavirus data.
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