Virginia DOC confirms first COVID-19 cases among its inmates

FALLS CHURCH, Va. (AP) — The Virginia Department of Corrections announced late Tuesday that three offenders had tested positive for COVID-19, marking the first confirmed cases among inmates in a state correctional facility.

The inmates are incarcerated at the Virginia Correctional Center for Women in Goochland, the department said in a statement.

Three employees and one contractor have also tested positive, the department said.

One of those employees works as a correctional officer at Indian Creek Correctional Center in Chesapeake, and one employee works in the Norfolk Probation and Parole office, according to the statement.

The other two work at the Goochland facility, one as an officer in training and one as a contract nurse, the department said.

All corrections facilities “are operating on modified lockdown in order to minimize contact between groups of offenders from different buildings,” the statement said. It did not provide information about any of the inmates’ or workers’ conditions. A spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to questions from The Associated Press.

Jails and prisons throughout the country have struggled with the question of how to protect inmates from the highly transmissible virus. Defense lawyers and some prosecutors have advocated releasing inmates, when possible, to reduce risk of transmission.

Earlier Tuesday, officials said 50 inmates at a northern Virginia jail are being monitored after an inmate there tested positive for coronavirus.

The Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office announced Monday night that an inmate in his 20s had tested positive for COVID-19 and is being isolated.

County health department spokeswoman Tina Dale said a high-risk task force visited the jail and concluded after an investigation that four individuals who had been in close contact with the inmate should also be isolated. Another 44 inmates living in the same unit as the inmate who tested positive are being monitored for symptoms and fever.

Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano issued a statement Tuesday calling the coronavirus case “an unfortunate development for our local criminal justice system.” He said he had already been developing a plan to release an unspecified number of inmates who are set for release in the next 60 days anyway. He said his office reviewed inmates’ files and only is seeking release of those who will not pose a threat to the community.

The jail holds roughly 1,000 inmates at any given time.

Also Tuesday, Senate Republicans in Virginia questioned Gov. Ralph Northam’s executive order issued Monday in which he placed Virginians under a stay-at-home order until June 10. The letter said Northam’s choice “struck us as curious” because it extends more than a month beyond what the White House is currently recommending and a day beyond Virginia’s June 9 primary.

The letter signed by six GOP senators also suggests that such a prolonged shutdown would require revisions to the recently approved state budget.

Northam spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky responded that the June 9 elections are clearly exempted from the governor’s stay-at-home order, which provides exceptions for activities including the operation of government.

“We are encouraging Virginians to vote absentee by mail as we continue to evaluate options for the May and June elections,” Yarmosky said.

Meanwhile, the number of coronavirus cases continues to rise. The Virginia Department of Health on Tuesday said the number of positive tests had increased from 1,020 to 1,250, the biggest single-day increase since tracking began. The health department says at least 27 people have died and more than 160 have been hospitalized.

In suburban Richmond, the number of fatalities at a nursing and rehabilitation facility dealing with a coronavirus outbreak continued to climb.

The Canterbury Rehabilitation & Healthcare Center announced Tuesday that seven residents with confirmed COVID-19 diagnoses had died, along with two others who were presumed to have had the illness. In total, 41 residents have tested positive, the facility said in a statement.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover.

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Rankin reported from Richmond.

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Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

Copyright © 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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