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.
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.)“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.