As of Saturday, the number of inmates at Snake River Correctional Institution who tested positive for COVID-19 and have died climbed to 11. This marks 15 in-custody deaths related to the pandemic for Oregon Department of Corrections. The actual cause of death is still pending for most of those cases, including nine at SRCI.
According to Oregon State Police, the cause of death has been confirmed as COVID for the inmate who died on Aug. 17 and another who died on Sept. 22.
The Sept. 22 death, however, was originally misreported to the media as Sept. 21. The Argus Observer learned this while trying to clarify whether there was an additional unreported death related to COVID.
“Regarding the COVID-related death at SRCI reported 9/21 (press release 9/22), that was my mistake,” wrote Betty Bernt, communications manager for Oregon DOC’s Agency Operations Center. “I was notified of the death early on 9/22 and mistakenly assumed he passed ‘last night’ and so reported the death as 9/21. He in fact died shortly after midnight – I did not verify time of death, so reported the incorrect date.”
Oregon DOC says it notifies Oregon State Police of all deaths, but the newspaper learned that the notification, in fact, is only complete once the Malheur County Medical Examiner enters it into a database.
“Good morning. I just spoke to OSP’s Tim Fox. As he indicated in the email, please contact the Malheur County Medical Examiner,” reads a Monday morning email from Jennifer Black, communication manager, for Oregon DOC. “Per my conversation with Mr. Fox, it sounds like the Malheur County Medical Examiner’s Offices needs to enter the AIC [inmate] deaths into a database in order for him to make a proper and complete search.”
The latest death on Oct. 17 was of an inmate who was between 55 and 65 years old, who died at a local hospital.
The age of deaths for those reported to have died is between 50 and 85. Causes of death remain unknown for inmates who died on Sept. 6, Sept. 25, Sept. 27, Oct. 3, Oct. 4, Oct. 5, Oct. 6, Oct. 13 and Oct. 17.
Calls to the Dr. David Brauer, medical examiner, to confirm the cause of death for those remaining which are unknown have not yet been returned.
The first positive test related to the facility was a staff member on June 23. Records show that there were five employees who contracted the virus near the end of that month, with the first positive case among inmates recorded on July 1.
At SRCI, there are now 448 inmates and 155 staff members who have tested positive for COVID, as of information updated on Oct. 15. There are 870 total staff and 2,908 total inmates at the facility.
On Aug. 7, Oregon DOC admitted to the newspaper that in its own review of 10 hours of random samples of requested video at SRCI, there was footage depicting “some instances in which correctional staff who were not able to maintain six feet of physical distancing [were] not wearing face masks as required by the Department’s policy.”
SRCI remains in a Tier 4 status, which means the entire facility is on quarantine; the most recent extension of that status is through Nov. 1, according to Amber Campbell, spokeswoman at SRCI. This was based on four positive tests of inmates, she said.
Requests are still outstanding for costs of inmates who have had to be hospitalized outside of SRCI.