COVID cases double among inmates

The Watertown Correctional Facility in Watertown. Kara Dry/Watertown Daily Times

GOUVERNEUR — Two north country correctional facilities that have managed to evade the novel coronavirus since its onset nearly a year ago have now confirmed cases among inmate populations.

According to updated figures released at 3 p.m. Monday by the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, Ogdensburg and Cape Vincent correctional facilities have each logged their first case of COVID-19 among inmates. Both facilities were some of the few in the state untouched by the virus until Monday. They both indicate one positive case each amongst inmate population with 17 tests pending for the Ogdensburg facility and 20 pending for Cape Vincent.

As of last week, the two facilities were among a handful in the state that hadn’t had any positive cases to date. According to DOCCS, the only correctional facilities in the state that still have not confirmed a case of COVID-19 are Moriah Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility, Essex County, and Rochester Correctional Facility, Monroe County. Both facilities are minimum security prisons.

Existing outbreaks at Gouverneur, Watertown and Riverview correctional facilities have also expanded over recent days.

A total of 56 inmates at Gouverneur are actively positive for the virus, up from 48 on Dec. 29, with 33 tests still pending. The facility has confirmed 58 cases to date, with two having recovered.

Cases have more than doubled at Watertown Correctional Facility to 13, up from six cases the week prior. All reported cases at the Watertown facility are active, as no recoveries have been logged.

Riverview Correctional Facility in Ogdensburg is reporting 25 confirmed cases, up from 13 last week. All reported cases at Riverview are active as well.

According to the DOCCS COVID-19 dashboard, as of Tuesday, 3,242 staff members have tested positive for the virus, and six have died. The staff cases have jumped by nearly 300 since the week prior, while the number of deaths reported has remained unchanged.

DOCCS has repeatedly maintained that it won’t release the number of staff members having tested positive, or in quarantine, by facility out of concerns for safety. But New York State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association President Michael B. Powers said last week that at least 13 staff members tested positive and 47 were quarantining between Gouverneur and Watertown correctional facilities at the time. Mr. Powers did not return request for comment as of press time Tuesday.

According to Monday’s figures, 3,337 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in state correctional facilities, 24 of which have died. More than 2,500 have recovered.

St. Lawrence County Sheriff Brooks J. Bigwarfe confirmed that an individual who was in county jail within the last few days tested positive for COVID-19. He said the individual was brought in on a warrant, received a COVID test according to protocols and was later released before the test came back positive.

Mr. Bigwarfe said other inmates and staff who may have been exposed are being tested and the facility has undergone a deep clean in an attempt to stop any spread of the virus.

As of Tuesday, Mr. Bigwarfe said there were 94 individuals in the jail.

“We’ve taken all the protocols the state commission has given us and followed those to mitigate any issues, but obviously it’s COVID,” Mr. Bigwarfe said. “It’s tough to figure out with asymptomatic people, who has it and who doesn’t. I still have to run a facility. I still have to take in inmates.”

COVID cases are also on the rise in other correctional facilities across the north country region.

Clinton Correctional Facility, Dannemora, has recorded 110 positive virus cases — up 10 from last week — 80 having recovered, leaving 30 active cases. One inmate at Clinton Correctional has died of COVID-19 complications.

The three correctional facilities in Malone — Franklin Correctional, Bare Hill Correctional and Upstate Correctional — have recorded a collective 135 cases of the virus, up three cases from last week. Bare Hill has logged the most, with 109 inmates testing positive for the virus, 65 having recovered. Franklin has recorded three cases, but two have recovered, and Upstate has logged 23 cases, with 22 recoveries — a large jump in recoveries, leaving one known active case in the prison.

Adirondack Correctional Facility, Ray Brook, saw no change in reported cases from last week to this week. The facility has recorded two virus cases, but both have recovered.

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