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This page offers all of Delaware Public Media's ongoing coverage of the COVID-19 outbreak and how it is affecting the First State. Check here regularly for the latest new and information.

With prison outbreaks contained, DOC to allow in-person visitation again

jtvcc_covid_treatment_center1.jpg
Department of Correction
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The COVID-19 treatment center at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center compound near Smyrna

State officials say the outbreak of COVID-19 that happened at two correctional facilities last month is nearly gone. The Department of Correction (DOC) plans to allow in-person visitation to resume at its prisons Sept. 1. 

Visits briefly started up again in late June following a large donation of masks for inmates, but were shut down when close to 400 Sussex Correctional Institution and Morris Community Corrections Center inmates tested positive last month. 

 

Now 98 percent of those who tested positive in July have recovered, or have been symptom-free for two weeks, according to DOC officials. Some inmates remain in a COVID-19 “step-down” unit until they test negative for the virus twice. As of Wednesday, just four known active infections remained. 

 

“We’re sensitive as a department that, at this time in particular, loved ones need to see each other,” said DOC Commissioner Claire DeMatteis. “We are tentatively planning to reopen [visitation] Sept. 1. But I’ll tell you, we’re going to be flexible. If there’s another outbreak in the community, if we’re concerned about any infection getting in, we won’t hesitate to temporarily suspend it again.”

 

DeMatteis emphasizes some inmates continue to be screened for symptoms daily. As of Tuesday, 900 inmates out of the more than 3,400 systemwide were receiving daily screenings. DOC officials say the scale of daily screenings changes based on perceived COVID-19 risk. 

 

There is no plan to routinely test asymptomatic inmates, though DOC officials say inmates are tested whenever there is a suspected risk. 

 

“We’re not hesitating to test, don’t get me wrong,” said DeMatteis. “It’s just that testing is a moment in time, whereas the more prudent approach based on the experts is these daily temperature checks and pulse oxygen test.”

 

DOC officials think the outbreak at Sussex Correctional started with a DOC employee and an inmate who contracted the virus at a hospital. 

 

Nineteen DOC staff members were positive as of Wednesday.

 

DeMatteis says DOC officers will be tested every two weeks under a statewide initiative to test “critical” state employees. 

 

So far ten inmates have died of complications from the virus. 

Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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