COVID-19 spike at MCI-Norfolk

Positive cases jump from 2 to 26

THE NUMBER OF PRISONERS testing positive for COVID-19 at MCI-Norfolk rose from 2 to 26 after the Department of Correction ordered facility-wide testing last week.

The prison, which houses more than 1,200 men whose age skews older, reported two positive cases on October 27. Another 24 were reported on Friday after facility-wide testing.

The prisoners have been quarantined to reduce further transmission to the population. None of the prisoners who tested positive have been hospitalized, and inmates continue to receive treatment through the DOC’s contacted medical provider, Wellpath.

There are currently 38 active cases among inmates statewide. Since April, 476 DOC inmates have tested positive and eight have died. More than 10,700 COVID-19 tests have been conducted across all 16 DOC facilities, which collectively house about 6,800 people.

Another facility struggling to contain the virus is the Massachusetts Alcohol and Substance Abuse Center in Plymouth, where 28 civilly committed men and 11 staff tested positive in early October, prompting the DOC to halt admissions for treatment.

The DOC says it will continue facility-wide testing at MCI-Norfolk as long as prisoners have the virus. In-person visitation for family and friends has been suspended, but attorneys can still visit. Staff testing remains optional.

Advocates have raised concerns that the prisoners at MCI-Norfolk are at higher risk because they tend to be older than inmates at most of the other state facilities. The oldest inmate at MCI-Norfolk is 87, according to state data. On Friday, attorneys at Prisoners’ Legal Services filed a motion in an ongoing lawsuit seeking the release to home confinement of older sentenced prisoners and those with longtime medical issues.

Despite the Supreme Judicial Court ruling in June that the Department of Correction has the authority to implement such a program, the agency did not do so. (The court declined to order the release of convicted prisoners.)

Meet the Author

Sarah Betancourt

Freelance reporter, Formerly worked for CommonWealth

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

“Nearly five months later, despite this directive, the DOC has not released a single prisoner to home confinement, and has taken no steps to even establish a home confinement program, which it was already legally obligated to do,” said Elizabeth Matos, executive director of Prisoners’ Legal Services. “We are clearly in a new major wave of COVID. Despite recent outbreaks at three prisons and jails and calls for decarceration from the American Public Health Association and the Commonwealth’s own Health Equity Task Force, the DOC has continued unchanged.”

One prisoner at MCI-Norfolk, in his 50s with several underlying health conditions, said in an email exchange with CommonWealth that it seems like it’s “only a matter of time” until he gets COVID-19.