By Randy Arrington
LURAY, May 26 — The Lord Fairfax Health District has now reported its first outbreak of COVID-19 in a correctional facility.
The Virginia Department of Health reported the most recent outbreaks at correctional facilities in the state on May 19 and May 23. However, as of May 19, the local health district was still reporting no outbreaks at prisons and jails. Therefore, it seems the local outbreak occurred just three days ago.
However, state health officials do not cite the location of these outbreaks, so no correctional facility has been named as the source. An outbreak is defined by VDH as two or more cases originating from the same source in the same location.
The Virginia Department of Corrections currently reports a total of 1,141 positive cases of COVID-19 among the 30,000-plus incarcerated in state correctional facilities, as well as 118 staff members who tested positive.
On May 21, the sixth Virginia inmate died of COVID-19. The 54-year-old male at the Buckingham Correctional Center had underlying health conditions and was hospitalized on April 28. This was the second virus-related death at the facility.
Among the 1,141 positive cases of the coronavirus found in prisons, VDOC reports that 590 are still on-site (incarcerated), while 12 are currently hospitalized. Some inmates have recovered, while others have been released.
The five Virginia correctional facilities with the highest number of reported COVID-19 cases are:
- 321 — Dillwyn Correctional Center
- 246 — Haynesville Correctional Center
- 186 — Greensville Correctional Center
- 112 — Buckingham Correctional Center
- 78 — Deerfield Correctional Center
Buckingham County has seen a dramatic increase in new cases due to two state correctional facilities located there (Buckingham CC and Dillwyn CC). The large, but rural, county has an estimated population of 17,032, and its largest town has 440 residents. However, Buckingham County is now among the top 15 localities in the state for COVID-19 cases (with 445), and that’s counting the five “hot spots” in the pandemic’s epicenter of Northern Virginia.
Two weeks ago, Page Valley News contacted Page County Sheriff Chad Cubbage to check in on the local inmate population and the precautions being taken at the local jail — as well as the status of those local inmates being housed at other correctional facilities across the state.
“We have 58 inmates housed in the Page County Jail; 44 inmates are housed in the Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail [Front Royal]; and 34 inmates are housed in the Southside Regional Jail [Emporia],” Sheriff Cubbage stated in his May 14 written reply. “We have protocols and procedures in place for the inmates who are housed in the Page County Jail, and there have been no problems at our facility.”
Sheriff Cubbage provided no information on the status of inmates housed at facilities outside Page County, despite direct questions to that affect.
When the sheriff responded on May 14, PVN made one additional request for information: How many Page County inmates have been released early due to the decision by the governor, the General Assembly and the Virginia Supreme Court, and from which facilities?
PVN has still not received a response 12 days later. Sheriff Cubbage provided the initial information requested within 48 hours.
Based on information provided to the Page County Board of Supervisors by a consultant who is advising the county on the potential of building a new $54 million jail — the Page County Jail averages 70 to 80 inmates; the sheriff stated two weeks ago, there were now 58. And while the number of out-of-county inmates incarcerated by Page was listed at “about 100”; Sheriff Cubbage’s recent numbers state that 78 local inmates are housed at two other facilities.
A group of 27 inmates at a state prison filed the first of several lawsuits from prisoners on April 8 claiming the state was not doing enough to protect those incarcerated from the COVID-19 pandemic. On April 22, the General Assembly approved Governor Ralph Northam’s early release plan. VDOC has cleared at least 230 inmates for early release.
The decision did not set well with many Republicans in the state legislature, as the April 22 vote for approval went basically along party lines. Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-26th) held a series of online webinars last week with guest speakers highlighting the problems with the early release policy and particularly bad cases.
The criteria for early release was basically those inmates with less than a year to serve and a record of good behavior. However, according to VDOC, that represents about 2,000 of the 30,000 incarcerated in Virginia.
The criteria did exclude any inmates that were convicted of a Class 1 felony or a violent sex offense. Prison officials have stated that they are considering an inmate’s medical conditions when making decisions and prioritizing non-violent offenders.
In his May 14 response, Sheriff Cubbage did provide the following list of protocols being taken at the Page County Jail to prevent the spread of COVID-19 (the list has not been edited or altered):
• The amount of arrestees has been reduced due to the Patrol Deputies serving more summonses.
• The amount of inmates who have been released has significantly increased due to the order from the Virginia Supreme Court.
• Due to the COVID-19 the Page County Jail is on modified lockdown and there are no current programs held inside our facility.
• We have been able to increase recreation for all inmates. Recreation now is approximately eight (8) hours a day/seven (7) days a week. OUR RECREATION YARD IS OUTSIDE WITH PLENTY OF DISTANCE AND FRESH AIR.
• There is no onsite visitation until further notice; however, video visitation is available from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven (7) days a week. We have worked with our local distributor and our inmates now get a free fifteen (15) minute visit per week as well as one (1) free phone call.
• There is a complete wipe down hourly of all contact surfaces throughout our entire facility. Bathrooms to include toilets, showers, and sinks which are disinfected after each use as well.
• At this time we feel that these procedures are working and we have no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in our facility.
• At this time the Page County Jail has no confirmed cases of COVID-19, there has been no need for overtime. THIS COULD SIGNIFICANTLY CHANGE IF COVID-19 STRIKES OUR FACILITY.
• At this time the Page County Jail has no confirmed cases of COVID-19, there has been no need for additional medical staff. THIS COULD SIGNIFICANTLY CHANGE IF COVID-19 STRIKES OUR FACILITY.
• We presented a proposed plan of action to the Page County Board of Supervisors and the request was denied.
• The inmate work release program has been put on hold, the inmate work detail program has been put on hold, and the inmate trustee program is limited to inside duties. General population, with the suspension of programs such as but not limited to, Religious Services, Counseling, Peer to Peer, and AA, is found to be somewhat restless. We provide additional outside recreation to alleviate some of this restlessness.
• We have contracted with the local hotel for rooms for staff who require a fourteen (14) day or longer quarantine.
• With the reduced inmate population we have been able to convert a section of our facility into a COVID-19 isolation area.
• Staff members are very much aware of the new procedures put in place to protect them from COVID-19. Even with the social distancing requirements our staff members are still able to communicate via electronic means with religious services and counseling services for support.
• The inmate population feels protected with the implementation of lockdown and sanitation practices. Our medical team is still providing onsite treatment once a week as well.
• The families of security staff also understand the precautions put in place to protect their loved ones.
• The families of the inmates are aware of the protocols and procedures put in place to protect their loved ones and they are also able to continue to communicate with their loved ones.