COVID-19 cases continue to climb at Dauphin County prison

“Clearly,we have a COVID spread inside."

  • By Christine Vendel/PennLive

As Dauphin County prison officials boost testing amid a COVID-19 cluster they already have found seven additional positive cases in one day.

County officials said Wednesday that 33 inmates have tested positive and 11 staff members. Twenty-eight of the inmates were not showing symptoms and four had “minor” symptoms, according to Corrections Director Brian Clark, who provided an update during a prison board meeting held via conference call.

One inmate required hospitalization and has been returned to prison to continue his recovery, Clark said.

“Clearly we have a COVID spread inside” the prison, Clark told board members on the call.

The figures represent an uptick from Tuesday, when county officials said 27 inmates and 10 staff members tested positive.

All residents of cell blocks A, B and C have been tested, and officials still are awaiting results while testing begins in other blocks. The testing eventually will cover all 1,050 inmates, employees and contracted employees, officials said.

Inmates who test positive are isolated in the same housing area of the prison for 21 days Clark said. Several positive inmates may be housed together, he said.

The positive inmates are checked at least once per day for respiratory issues, according to Todd Haskins, chief operating officer for PrimeCare Medical, which provides medical care and treatment in the prison. PrimeCare also is doing the mass testing.

Inmates who were in close proximity to someone in prison who tested positive are being placed in quarantine for 14 days, Clark said.

Entire housing units of 60 to 70 inmates will be tested at one time, but no one is moved until officials get test results back, and it can take several days to get results, Clark said, addressing a concern that positive inmates were not being segregated.

The prison also tests every new inmate when they are admitted, Haskins said. In addition, anyone exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms would be placed in quarantine or isolated status and tested, he said.

Prison officials issued a “no move” order last week to try to contain the spread, Haskins said. Prison officials are trying to trace where the cluster started and how.

Once prison officials have a full picture of the “amount of spread,” then they can finalize their plans with how to deal with it, Clark said.

Clark admitted the prison has a higher number of positive cases than many other prisons across the state, but said that’s because Dauphin County is among the few doing facility-wide testing. This round of mass testing is the second undertaken by the prison. The first was in May and resulted in 21 positive cases, all of whom were asymptomatic.

The prison also was dealing in recent weeks with a “water issue,” that took some time to track down and solve, Clark said. But he said inmates were not without water for any time, and the facility was not completely lacking hot water. Instead, he said, there were some “issues back and forth,” until they identified the problem was with a mixer, that mixes hot and cold water. The problem has been repaired, he said.

The problems with hot water and COVID-19 at the prison have prompted fear and concerns from some inmates and their loved ones.

One inmate who tested positive wrote to family members for help Wednesday saying he “can barely breathe” and the prison wasn’t doing enough to help him. A relative posted his note on a Facebook community page.

Prison officials were not immediately available Wednesday to respond to questions about his situation.

A woman concerned about how the inmates are being treated is planning a protest outside the prison 501 Mall Road in Swatara Township at 10 a.m. Saturday.

PennLive and The Patriot-News are partners with PA Post.

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