CENTRE COUNTY, Pa. (WTAJ) — As the number of COVID-19 cases across Central Pennsylvania continues to grow, local prisons are monitoring the increase and working to prevent outbreaks inside their walls.
The emergency management agency director in Huntingdon County, Joe Thompson, says the biggest risk for starting a COVID-19 outbreak within prisons is from the employees who come in each day.
“What really triggered the concern was a number of the staff, the corrections officers became ill,” says Thompson.
The Huntingdon County jail shut down this past October following five COVID-19 cases between inmates and employees.
“During that time, there was a extensive cleaning done of the facility,” says Thompson.
Now, Thompson says things are back to operating as normal, with precautions for incoming inmates.
“Any new inmates who would be coming to Huntingdon County jail who are picked up on warrants, for example, or maybe committed there by court after a hearing or something like that, are taken either to the Mifflin or Cambria County jails for their 14 day quarantine,” says Thompson.
In Centre County, the correctional facility recently announced it will evaluate bookings on a case by case basis in an effort to keep the number of inmates low. They currently have 187 inmates with 34 positive cases.
“We are really working very closely with the courts to determine if it’s absolutely essential for that individual to come into the facility,” says Centre County Commissioner Michael Pipe.
Operations at the Blair County prison have reported lower numbers. After 43 positive cases sparked a lock down in December, the prison currently had 219 inmates with only two positive cases.
“We’re really the only office in blair county that cannot shut down, we have to stay operational,” says A.C. Stickel, chairman of the Blair County Prison Board.
All of the facilities say they are regularly testing for COVID-19, requiring masking, and holding virtual visitations.