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COVID-19 case numbers rising, including among inmates

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Washington DOC measures to prevent spread of coronavirus

Jesse Kaufman, an officer with the Washington State Department of Corrections transport team, cleans handcuffs as part of the protocol to reduce the spread of COVID-19. 

Walla Walla County officials said this morning there have been 463 residents diagnosed with COVID-19 overall, 153 of those who have active cases. Three residents have died with the virus since the pandemic began.

According to health officials here, today’s count includes 42 Washington State Penitentiary inmates and two staff members who have or have had the virus. This is the first time the county’s public information reflected virus-related case numbers from the prison.

However, as of Monday the state’s Department of Corrections had reported 12 inmates at Washington State Penitentiary and six staff members have tested positive for COVID-19. Another eight people at the Mill Creek Regional Performance Center on Pine Street reported having the coronavirus.

Across the state’s prison system, there have been 321 incarcerated people with positive test results and two deaths. There are currently 27 inmates with active cases of the disease and 609 inmates in quarantine for exposure to a communicable disease, including severe acute respiratory diseases, which can include COVID-19), according to state data.

In all Washington prison locations there have been 131 employees and contracted staff who have tested positive for COVID-19. All staff numbers are based on self-reporting, according to the department.

County officials said there is a reporting lag time by the state; prison-based cases here were identified through testing done at Washington State Penitentiary due to an identified exposure there.

County health officials said today inmates with the coronavirus are included in the county numbers of where they are imprisoned and staff members of the penitentiary who have tested positive are included among the case counts of the county they reside in.

The Department of Community Health will be tracking Walla Walla-based prison inmates separately in the “place of residence” category on its website.

The agency’s staff said Monday on social media that Walla Walla County had 94 new cases of people with COVID-19 from July 27 through Sunday, including 34 cases among staff and inmates at the Washington State Penitentiary.

Sunday had the highest day’s tally yet, with 28 newly diagnosed people, including 19 at the prison, staff posted.

On Monday, Umatilla County’s Public Health Department reported 122 new people diagnosed with the virus, and 1,810 cases as now inactive, meaning people who are at least 10 days past onset of their illness and have been symptom-free for 24 hours.

Oregon Health Authority reported a 24th virus-related death in Umatilla County, although as of 2 p.m. Monday, county officials were reporting 23 deaths in a total of 2,089 cases of the disease.

In that number there are 256 people with active cases; another 105 people are showing signs COVID-19 and have had exposure to the illness. Twelve people are currently hospitalized.

A story from the East Oregonian reports there have been 162 cases of COVID-19 among inmates at Eastern Oregon Correctional Institute in Pendleton, and 15 among its staff.

“That represents 47 new cases among inmates since July 31,” which prison spokesman Ron Miles attributed to an entire unit being tested that day.

Cases within the prison and among its staff are reported to and counted in the Umatilla County Public Health Department’s totals, according to the newspaper.

Umatilla County health officials continue to implore anyone with symptoms of the virus to stay home and not go to work.

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Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 509-526-8322.

Sheila Hagar has written for the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin since 1998. Sheila covers health, social services and city government in Milton-Freewater, Athena and Weston in the Walla Walla Valley.