An outbreak of COVID-19 has been reported at the Prince William-Manassas Adult Detention Center, where there are at least two confirmed cases of the disease, according to a City of Manassas official.
The Virginia Department of Health reported an outbreak in a Prince William correctional facility on Thursday morning but did not provide any details about which facility the outbreak occurred in, or how many people were sick.
Requests for information made to the Prince William Sheriff’s office, jail officials, Prince William County officials, the Virginia Department of Health and the Prince William Health District were refused or had not been returned as of Friday morning.
Confirmation of the outbreak came from the City of Manassas Emergency Operations Center, which was informed that at least two people at the jail had tested positive for COVID-19, City of Manassas spokeswoman Patty Prince said Friday morning.
At least two confirmed cases are required in a facility to constitute an outbreak.
Prince William Health District Director Dr. Alison Ansher said Friday morning in an email that the health district would not release any details of the outbreak to “preserve the anonymity of each patient and practitioner.”
Ansher also would not provide any information about where the outbreak occurred or how many staff or inmates at the jail have tested positive for COVID-19.
The Prince William-Manassas Adult Detention Center has not responded to request for comment as of Friday at 10 a.m. Prince William County officials declined to comment on the outbreak Thursday.
So far, there have been 13 total outbreaks reported in the Prince William Health District – 11 in long term care facilities, one in an educational setting and one in a correctional facility. There are 114 COVID-19 cases associated with those 13 outbreaks as of Friday, May 15. The health district includes the cities of Manassas and Manassas Park.
Prince William Commonwealth’s Attorney Amy Ashworth said on Thursday morning that she was “not aware of an outbreak” in any correctional facilities in Prince William. Ashworth said that staving off an outbreak at the adult detention center has been an ongoing concern, and that an outbreak could be inevitable.
“It’s only a matter of time before it’s in the jail and the courthouse. It’s a little terrifying,” Ashworth said.
Ashworth added that the adult detention center has made significant changes to their operations to prevent the virus from reaching the facility since the pandemic started. Those changes include implementing new procedures to isolate and triage at-risk or symptomatic inmates, maintaining social distancing between staff and the general public and screening all incoming inmates for symptoms of the illness.
But Ashworth said the likelihood of an COVID-19 outbreak will increase once Northern Virginia begins “phase one” of state’s reopening plan, which is set to begin on Friday, May 29.
“Once we reopen in June, it’s going to be everywhere,” Ashworth said.
Other parts of the state entered phase one today, Friday, May 15, with the exception of Northern Virginia, the City of Richmond and Accomack County. The delay in the latter two regions was announced Thursday. Gov. Ralph Northam announced on Monday, May 11, that Northern Virginia localities would remain in “phase zero” for another two weeks.
Efforts to reduce the jail’s population have been underway since mid-March when Ashworth announced that the commonwealth’s attorney’s office would facilitate the release of some non-violent offenders from the jail as a precaution against COVID-19. Since then, the jail population has fallen by more than 25%, and is below capacity for the first time in a decade.
Shawn Stout, a private defense attorney who serves as co-chair of the Prince William County Bar Association Criminal Law Committee, said Thursday he had not been told of an outbreak at any correctional facility in Prince William.
“I find it disturbing that no one has told us anything,” Stout said.
Stout said in a phone call several weeks ago that an outbreak at the local jail may be unavoidable unless more was done to reduce the jail population. Stout said that once the coronavirus is in jail, it would be difficult to contain because social distancing between staff and inmates at the jail is impossible.
"It’s a tinderbox,” Stout said at the time.
Jill Palermo contributed to this report. Reach Daniel Berti at firstname.lastname@example.org