Positive virus test rate drops to 3% in state prisons

Positive virus test rate drops to 3% in state prisons

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — The number of Connecticut prisoners testing positive for the coronavirus has dropped substantially over the past three months, decreasing to 3% in a second round of mass testing from 9% during the first round, the Department of Correction announced Friday.

The department tested more than 8,500 inmates in the state’s 14 prisons from July 23 to Sept. 8, and 241 tests came back positive. The first round of testing from May 13 to June 25 found that 832 of the 9,500 inmates were positive.

Statewide, about 1% of coronavirus tests are coming back positive.

Prison officials said no inmates have shown symptoms of COVID-19 since Sept. 2. All inmates who test positive are isolated and monitored by health care staff for 14 days. Only seven inmates are currently asymptomatic positive, officials said.

Seven prisoners have died from the virus since the pandemic began.

The Correction Department also has tested more than 10,000 employees since July 17, and 13 tested positive with no symptoms.

“The correctional and healthcare staff have done an incredible job throughout the pandemic,” Correction Department Commissioner Angel Quiros said in a statement.

The department credited the decline in positive tests to continued regular cleaning by staff, and mask wearing and hand washing by staff and inmates. Many virus precautions also were implemented under the settlement of a lawsuit seeking to better protect inmates.

The first round of testing allowed officials to quickly separate positive-testing inmates from the rest of the population, which also helped minimize the spread, department spokesperson Karen Martucci said.

Prison officials had faced criticism from inmates and correctional officers about their response to the virus earlier in the pandemic. Staff members said at a news conference in May that not enough was being done to prevent the spread of the virus, and that cleaning was inadequate, too few inmates were wearing masks and social distancing was not being enforced.

In June, the Correction Department agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut that sought to better protect inmates from the virus. The department agreed to implement a number of precautions, including prioritizing elderly and medically vulnerable prisoners for early release and giving inmates better access to cleaning supplies.

The department’s relocation of a coronavirus isolation unit had no effect on testing rates, Martucci said. Officials recently moved the unit from the maximum-security Northern Correctional Institution in Somers to the high-security MacDougall-Walker prison in Suffield, after discovering prisoners were hiding symptoms to avoid being sent to Northern.

The highest positive rates in the latest round of testing were at Robinson Correctional Institution in Enfield — nearly 9% — and Willard-Cybulski Correctional Institution in Enfield — nearly 8%. No offenders at York Correctional Institution in Niantic, where all female prisoners are housed, have tested positive, nor have there been positive tests at the Manson Youth Institution in Cheshire.

Connecticut has been one of only a few states to conduct mass testing of their inmate populations, state officials said.

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