A COVID-19 outbreak has rapidly spread through a Virginia jail, infecting at least 120 inmates and 20 staff members despite emergency protocols officials say have been in place since March to prevent the contagion from infiltrating the facility.
The Pamunkey Regional Jail in Hanover, Virginia, is the latest U.S. correctional institution to report an outbreak of coronavirus which has plagued thousands of jail and prison inmates across the country since the global pandemic started earlier this year.
On Wednesday, officials at the Pamunkey jail announced that 120 of the 380 inmates incarcerated at the lockup have tested positive for the virus in the six days since the first inmate case was detected on Sept. 3.
“It’s virtually impossible to stop outbreaks from occurring within facilities of these types,” Dr. Tom Franck, director of the Chickahominy Health District in Virginia, said during a news conference at the jail. “When you have a congregated setting like this and you’ve got people sharing bathrooms and sharing space together, it’s almost inevitable that you’re going to get outbreaks.”
Franck said officials have narrowed the outbreak to a specific pod at the jail, saying about 70% of the 178 inmates in that section have tested positive for the virus and that test results are pending for another dozen inmates.
While it remains unclear how the virus invaded the 127,000-square-foot facility that has 15 different housing units, James Willett, the jail’s superintendent, said two staff members tested positive for COVID-19 on Aug. 20 and a jail contractor tested positive on Aug. 28.
He said the two jail employees and a third staff member who tested positive on Aug. 31 were immediately instructed to self-isolate. Since then, another 17 staff members have tested positive and have gone into self-isolation.