CHARLESTON — Heeding Gov. Jim Justice’s call to “run to the fire” in the fight against COVID-19, the Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation has resumed enhanced testing at the South Central Regional Jail in response to four new positive inmate cases there.
With five active inmate cases total, the entire Kanawha County facility is on lockdown to eliminate movement within the jail. The positive inmates are in two housing units. Of the other inmates in these units, two were tested after showing symptoms and their results are pending. The remaining 29 inmates in these units are being tested. None of these inmates is complaining of symptoms. Each inmate in both units is screened for symptoms daily and their temperatures are checked twice per day.
DCR has launched its response in coordination with Gov. Justice, the W.Va. Department of Health and Human Resources and its Bureau for Public Health. Corrections Commissioner Betsy Jividen and her leadership team briefed DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch and Public Health Commissioner Dr. Ayne Amjad on Sunday by conference call. With other DHHR leaders and the jail’s medical services provider also participating, officials discussed options and best practices to develop the response at SCRJ.
All DCR facilities, including South Central Regional Jail, conducted enhanced testing of inmates and staff in June. Nearly 440 SCRJ inmates and more than 100 employees were tested at that time. All were negative. As it has throughout the pandemic, DCR also tests symptomatic individuals and those identified as a close contact through contact tracing, as a prerequisite for some offsite medical appointments, and at the recommendation of the Bureau for Public Health or a facility’s medical provider. DCR facilities also coordinate with their local health departments.
Sunday’s conference call also focused on DCR’s ongoing response at the Southern Regional Jail. That facility, in Raleigh County, has one active inmate and nine active employee cases. The positive inmate remains asymptomatic, and all employees are self-quarantining at home. Tests are pending for 10 inmates and 19 staff as part of the contact tracing process. None report symptoms.
At both the Southern and South Central regional jails, nearly 58 percent of the total population – 305 and 416 inmates, respectively -- are pretrial defendants. To address the risk of COVID-19 within correctional facilities, the W.Va. Supreme Court called on magistrates and circuit judges in late March to consider personal recognizance or reduced bond for “any pre-trial individuals who do not constitute a public safety risk.” Each jail now has more inmates than when that guidance was issued.