ONTARIO — More inmates and staff members at Snake River Correctional Institution have tested positive for the novel coronavirus COVID-19, bringing the total number of cases to 15 among staff and 13 among inmates as of Friday. According to the most recent update from Oregon Department of Corrections, there have been 135 total tests for inmates there, with 60 returning negative and 62 still pending.

Four inmates are still listed as in medical isolation, which refers to being “ideally: confined to a single cell with solid walls and door that closes.”

SRCI is still listed as one of three facilities in a Tier 4 status among Oregon prisons. This means the entire prison is quarantined for 14 days and inmates will only be transferred off site for life-saving measures. ODOC aims to treat quarantine the same way it treats medical isolation, but with the amount of inmates at SRCI, that is not possible. This is because SRCI does not have single cells for each inmate, according to information from public information officer Amber Campbell.

According to an issue brief about the situation at SRCI, the first positive test was an employee on June 23 and the first positive test for an inmate was confirmed July 1. In the brief it states that ODOC has enough personal protective equipment for its employees and has identified enough beds for medical isolation capacity should there be a surge in positive cases.

While contact tracing is being done for inmate or staff who test positive, ODOC says it is not possible to know how many employees have been tested as that information is not always shared with the agency, and that the number of staff showing positive on its tracking page is from self-disclosed reports.

Following is a question-and-answer session with Campbell regarding more details about how things are shapig up for inmates in quarantine. In her replies, Campbell refers to inmates as adults in custody, or AICs.

Argus: I noticed the Tier 4 status would ideally place each inmate in a single cell. Are there currently individual cells for each inmate at SRCI? If not, how are inmates being quarantined?

Campbell: SRCI does not have a single cell for each AIC.

SRCI has two specific Housing Units being used to quarantine AICs presenting with symptoms and/or waiting for COVID-19 test results, in single cells. The other AICs are quarantined to their Housing Units and are generally housed two per cell.

Argus: How are prisoners accessing meals? Are they being delivered?

Campbell: Meals are being delivered to each housing unit.

Enhanced sack meals are being delivered to the AICs twice a day (morning and early afternoon).

An enhanced sack meal covers one and a-half meals per dietary nutritional guidelines.

Argus: What about fresh air or exercise? Are they getting any during this time?

Campbell: At this time AICs are given time to be out of their cells, in their housing unit dayroom on a rotation basis.

The number of AICs in the dayroom at any given time is limited. The entire housing unit (most general population housing units at SRCI house 80 AICs) is not allowed out all at once.

Since we have just recently entered into Tier 4 status we are in an assessment mode to identify further operational changes. The option for outside recreational yard time will continually be reviewed for possible consideration at a later date.

Argus: Are visitations completely canceled at this point?

Campbell: Yes, visitations are cancelled at SRCI and throughout all Oregon Department of Corrections prisons.

3/12/2020 Following the State of Emergency issued in response to the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) in Oregon, the Oregon Department of Corrections (DOC) has suspended all visiting at all 14 state prisons.

06/24/2020 As part of the Oregon Department of Corrections’ COVID-19 continuing prevention efforts, normal visiting will remain canceled statewide until further notice. This includes non-contact visits, family visits, and attorney visits. 

Argus: How are inmates able to keep in contact with their lawyers? 

Campbell: AICs do still have access available to them, to call their attorneys.

AICs are able to call their attorney through signing up on a list in their housing unit to make phone calls, from the housing unit dayroom.

Argus: For staff that came into contact with inmates who have tested positive, are they being sent home for a 14-day period or are they expected to continue working until they present symptoms?

Campbell: Medical Services staff conduct Contact Tracing relating to all positive COVID-19 cases originating on-site. 

If staff are not presenting with symptoms they come to work.

Staff are screened every time they come to work, seven days a week – on all shifts. If, during that screening staff respond that they have symptom(s) they are sent home.

The screening is based on CDC guidelines of taking their temperature and being verbally asked if they are presenting with any new symptoms (again based on the symptom list from the CDC).

Argus: Are work crews currently being placed on hold due to the quarantine?

Campbell: Yes. Work crews from the Snake River Correctional Minimum Facility are not being dispatched at this time.

Argus: Does ODOC offer any kind of resources or services for inmates who may be struggling with mental health issues related to being in isolation or related to fear associated with the pandemic?

Campbell: Yes.

Behavioral Health Services (BHS) staff from our medical services section are making rounds in the housing units checking in with AICs for mental health related issues.  These staff are Qualified Mental Health Professionals (QMHP) and two BHS Managers. 

We also have a mental health prescriber (either a psychiatrist or physiocratic nurse practitioner) available to meet confidentially with AICs (in an office area on the unit). These would be for a clinical and/or crisis needs, or for psychiatric medication needs.  

Also, staff can refer an AIC to the BHS staff for them to check on a specific AIC – if the staff feel that an AIC is needing that service. 

BHS staff are also making handouts for all AICs throughout the institution to help pass the time. These handouts are items such as: crosswords, brain teasers, word searches.

BHS has two managers on site and they are going throughout the institution as a resource to AICs as well.

If an AIC tests positive a BHS staff will see that person within 24 hours to check on them and their mental health needs, relating to the positive COVID-19 test.

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