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Federal Prison Failed to Isolate Nearly 100 COVID-19 Patients: DOJ

A federal prison in Louisiana — which previously made headlines as an “early hotspot for coronavirus” — failed to isolate multiple inmates who tested positive for COVID-19, while also failing to inform staff that they were interacting with sick inmates, according to a new report from the Justice Department’s inspector general.

The Department of Justice report concluded that the prison, Federal Correctional Complex in Oakdale, failed to “isolate nearly 100 asymptomatic inmates who tested positive for the virus,” according to CBS News.

And, as the number of COVID cases continues to rise at record rates for American civilians and those behind bars, advocates and watchdogs worry that more corners will be cut resulting in an increased lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and cleaning supplies, leading to more people getting infected in federal and state prisons, CBS News reported.

Moreover, this watchdog report comes just about a month after the Bureau of Prisons reinstated in-person visits to their facilities — which they maintain follow all federal guidelines.

The COVID-positive inmates housed in FCC Oakdale were permitted around the institution as if nothing had changed, as they were still using the showers, telephones, and other common areas on a staggered schedule with the rest of the general population, CBS News details. Moreover, the new Justice Department report outlines that some positive inmates were left in their housing units “for up to six days” while being in contact with others.

The FCC Oakdale staff also said they were not given PPE while working on housing units with positive inmates, and that the lack of equipment was “so dire” that PPE supplies “were being taken from the complex medical unit after hours without permission,” the report outlined.

Other staff members tell a different story — one not of lack, but one of neglect and failed CDC Guideline enforcement, according to the Associated Press.

Some FCC Oakdale staff said they had access to N95 surgical masks, but “did not understand the necessity” of wearing the protection when interacting with COVID-positive inmates, the Associated Press notes.

Another employee said he didn’t wear an N95 mask while escorting sick inmates to a local hospital “because his supervisor told him that he did not need to wear one,” the report said.

The  Justice Department report concluded:

Oakdale staff told us that institution management failed to adequately communicate and engage with them at the beginning of the outbreak, which created an environment in which staff believed that management was not concerned for their well-being.

Earlier, an Oakdale employee told CBS News that the facility was not prepared for the influx of cases from the spring, foreshadowing what was to come in the fall.

“It’s just something you never thought would have happened when it started happening,” the Oakdale employee said. “[The pandemic] was taken very lightly. Then when we started sending inmates out, then it became very serious.”

According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ COVID dashboard, to date, 140 inmates and two staff members have died from COVID-19 across the federal prison system — and advocates and watchdogs worry that due to the record number of rising cases and daily highs, more people will perish, CBS News outlines.

The same dashboard details that here are now 3,048 current cases of COVID among federal inmates, and 1,113 cases of COVID among BOP staff nationwide. Over the past few months of lockdowns and developments, 18,160 inmates and 1,677 staff who have been previously infected are now recovered.

Andrea Cipriano is a TCR staff writer.