Coronavirus case spike hitting Delaware prisons

Jeff Neiburg
Delaware News Journal

The latest surge in community spread of the novel coronavirus has infiltrated the Delaware Department of Correction, and there are 221 active positive COVID-19 cases among inmates at five department facilities – with the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center near Smyrna accounting for 174 of them.

Of the 221 cases, only 30 are showing symptoms, DOC said. 

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Building C at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center. There are currently at least 174 active coronavirus cases at the prison.

"Those with symptoms are mild," Commissioner Claire DeMatteis said in a press release. "We are staying ahead of these clusters by identifying them proactively, quarantining inmates in COVID treatment centers."

The department sad three COVID-19-positive inmates are being housed in the infirmary at Vaughn for observation, one is being held in quarantine at Wilmington's Howard R. Young Correctional, and one with underlying health conditions is receiving treatment in stable condition at an area hospital.  None of the cases requires supplemental oxygen, DOC said.

A cluster was identified at Vaughn on Nov. 16, less than a week after the Department of Correction suspended in-person visitation at its facilities. Days later, enhanced screening and testing identified the first inmate COVID-19 cases at Baylor Women’s Correctional Institution in the eight months since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

There are now 36 active cases at the women's prison, with 10 of those cases showing symptoms.

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Ongoing COVID-19 testing has revealed additional cases in four housing buildings at Vaughn and a cluster of cases at Howard R. Young Correctional Institution in Wilmington, where there are eight active cases.

The Howard R. Young Correctional Institution in Wilmington.

Over the past 10 days, the DOC and its health care provider have administered 624 COVID-19 tests of inmates who have either exhibited COVID-19-like symptoms, have come into sustained contact with COVID-19-positive inmates, or are assigned to housing units where positive COVID-19 test results have been returned. Testing is ongoing, and the department said about 250 inmate COVID-19 tests "remain pending at this time." There are 120 pending tests from Howard R. Young, 100 at Vaughn and 30 at Baylor Women's.

The department did not provide additional information about the identity of the inmates for privacy protection.

DOC temporarily suspended in-person visitation statewide on Nov. 12 and temporarily suspended work release programs statewide on Nov. 18 as cases continued to climb around the state.

According to the DOC website, the agency oversees between 4,500 and 5,000 inmates.

To date, 783 offenders have tested positive and 11 have died from complications related to the virus.

There are 55 active cases among DOC staff and four from contracted staff working at a DOC facility.

Delaware continues to see an increase in cases and hospitalizations. Through Monday, 185 people were hospitalized due to complications from COVID-19. The seven-day average of daily case counts is up to 440.7. 

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Contact Jeff Neiburg at jneiburg@delawareonline.com. Follow him on Twitter @Jeff_Neiburg.