HARRISBURG, Pa. (WTAJ) — Department of Corrections (DOC) and SCI Houtzdale officials report the first death of an inmate with COVID-19 on January 12.
The 59-year-old inmate, whose name will not be provided, was serving a 24- to 48-year sentence for involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a child under 13. He had underlying medical conditions and was sent to the hospital on Dec. 27, 2020. He tested positive for COVID-19 while at the hospital. He had been at SCI Houtzdale since January 2020.
“We continue our battle against this dangerous invisible enemy,” Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said. “We are experiencing a resurgence. That is why it is vital to continue our aggressive mitigation efforts. We cannot let our guard down.”
The rate of state prison inmate deaths with COVID is lower than Pennsylvania long term care facilities. A Council on Criminal Justice December 2020 report shows PA DOC as being one of six states that have fewer deaths than expected given statewide rates: https://cdn.ymaws.com/counciloncj.org/resource/resmgr/covid_commission/COVID-19_in_State_and_Federa.pdf.
SCI Houtzdale reports 39 active inmate cases and 29 active staff cases. Inmates who have tested positive are in isolation at the prison or local hospitals, depending on the level of medical care required. Employees who have tested positive must isolate at their homes and cannot return to work until they provide a doctor’s note clearing them to return.
“We are experiencing the same thing that our counties are experiencing, and we are following very strict procedures to mitigate the virus’ impact on our state prisons,” Wetzel said. “I’ve directed our staff to act aggressively and quickly when inmates report influenza-like illnesses, and that includes isolating and quarantining inmates, locking down units or entire prisons as needed, conducting regular cleanings, and even 72-hour deep cleanings in order to protect staff and inmates.”