Prisons in 14-day lockdown after coronavirus takes toll on inmates

Two inmates in a Louisiana prison have died from coronavirus, another 20 have been hospitalized, causing the Federal Bureau of Prisons to call for a lockdown.

Two inmates in a Louisiana prison have died from coronavirus and another 20 have been hospitalized, forcing the Federal Bureau of Prisons to lockdown all 146,000 of its inmates in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus.

Prisoners at FCC Oakdale in Louisiana have been advised by the local health department not to test inmates for the COVID-19 coronavirus but rather to just presume they have it if they are showing any symptoms according, to ABC News.

Nicholas Rodriquez, a 43-year-old inmate, died on Wednesday. He was the second inmate to lose his life to the virus within a week, after another inmate died while serving a 27-year drug sentence. Both men had serious, underlying health conditions, according to prison officials. The men are the first two to die of coronavirus within the federal prison system so far, although state level and local prisons have been seeing an uptick in mortality.

The Oakdale compound has has 11 inmates test positive, while 19 inmates suspected of carrying the virus had to be hospitalized and 32 individuals are in isolation, showing symptoms. At least another 82 have been quarantined as a precaution, according to local union president Ronald Morris. “It is a mess here,” said Morris.

Prison staff are feeling the effects as well with 13 staff members having tested positive, one of whom is in intensive care at a hospital in Alexandria, about 50 minutes away. Another 16 staff members are all quarantined from work awaiting test results.

Louisiana has become a hot bed for the virus, with over 273 dead as a result of COVID-19. The number of confirmed cases increased by 23 per cent overnight, topping 6,400, according to recent findings. Around 23 per cent of those have been hospitalized. The Bureau of Prisons said the uptick is “consistent with the surge of positive cases in Louisiana.”  

Across the United States, there are more than 200,000 cases.

“What’s happening in Oakdale is a tragic and avoidable example of what happens when officials fail to heed the advice of public health experts who have warned from the beginning that prisons and jails would become dangerous breeding grounds for this disease,” said Katie Schwartzmann, legal director of the Louisiana American Civil Liberties Union. “This should be a wakeup call to state and local officials that this is an imminent threat to public health that must be addressed immediately.”

Health officials have long been warning about the threat of epidemics in jails and prisons because they are ideal environments for virus outbreaks. The inmates and staff at Oakdale have become very afraid and the Bureau of Prisons are aware that the virus could spread just as quickly at any of the other 121 correctional facilities under their administration.

The Bureau of Prisons moved to have a nationwide lockdown as part of this new phase of their coronavirus response plan. In an effort to slow the spread of the virus, officers will lock all inmates in their cells for 14 days. In a statement released by the Bureau, the agency said that the inmates will be locked down “to the extent practicable.” Inmates will still have access to services like mental health treatment and education programs.