Despite efforts to reduce inmate numbers and screen new arrivals, the Prince William-Manassas Adult Detention Center is contending with an outbreak of COVID-19 that as of Tuesday had sickened 29 people, including seven staff members and 22 inmates.
The outbreak was first acknowledged by jail officials on Friday, May 15. At that time, two staff members had tested positive for COVID-19 and two additional staff members and 11 inmates were exhibiting symptoms of the disease and were awaiting test results, according to a county press release.
By Tuesday, 22 inmates and seven staff had tested positive for COVID-19, according to Maj. Amanda Lambert, director of support services at the jail.
Lambert said that, so far, none of the sick inmates or staff are hospitalized or have died from the virus. Most of the sick individuals are displaying minor, “cold-like” symptoms, Lambert said in a phone call Tuesday.
Lambert added that the virus had been difficult to contain because, in some cases, the symptoms were so mild that inmates did not report them to the jail’s medical staff because they “thought they had a cold.”
Some inmates and staff that tested positive either did not have a fever or were presenting mild symptoms, like back pain, that did not immediately raise alarms, Lambert said.
“We’re learning a lot about this as we go,” Lambert said. “It’s a tricky virus.”
The jail announced on Friday that they had ordered 60 test kits, but Lambert said Tuesday that testing remained a challenge for the jail where 540 inmates and hundreds of staff are present every day. The local health district has so far refused to comment on whether more testing will be made available for inmates and staff at the jail.
The local health district has also declined to provide even basic information about the outbreak at the jail. Prince William Health District Director Dr. Alison Ansher will not release the name of the correctional facility in which the outbreak occurred, even after the jail confirmed the outbreak on Friday.
Citing Virginia Code, Ansher said all the information about the outbreak requested by Prince William Times in a FOIA request was being “entirely withheld” to “preserve the anonymity of each patient and practitioner whose medical records are examined as part of a disease investigation.”
To prevent the further spread of the virus in the jail, the jail administration has set uptwo quarantine housing units, which are pod units with individual cells, so that inmates can be quarantined individually. One unit is used for all newly admitted inmates, and a second unit is designated for inmates who were in contact with the first inmate who tested positive for the disease. That person was released from custody a few day prior to testing positive for the disease, according to a May 15 county press release.
There are 58 inmates quarantined in the jail because they had contact with at least one of the sick staff members, according to the press release.
In the months leading up to the outbreak, the jail and local criminal justice stakeholders have taken extraordinary measures to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19 within the jail. Those steps have included efforts by Commonwealth’s Attorney Amy Ashworth’s office, defense attorneys and the courts to reduce the jail population by offering second bond hearings for all inmates.
The population of the jail has dropped by about 250 inmates, or about 35%, since March.
At the beginning of the pandemic, jail staffimplemented new procedures aimed at preventing the spread of the virus, including isolating and triaging at-risk or symptomatic inmates, maintaining social distancing between staff and the general public and screening all incoming inmates for symptoms of the illness.
Jail Superintendent Pete Meletis said in the May 15 press release that from the start, the jail had “put numerous process and procedures in place to keep the virus out of the ADC, and as much as possible, to mitigate the spread of the virus if it were to enter the facility.”
“We will continue to do everything we can to keep our inmates and staff safe,” Meletis said.
Ashworth and some local defense attorneys warned before the outbreak that the spread of the virus to jail could be inevitable. Ashworth said last Thursday that staving off an outbreak at the jail has been an ongoing concern, and that it was “only a matter of time before it’s in the jail and the courthouse.”
Shawn Stout, a private defense attorney who serves as co-chair of the Prince William County Bar Association Criminal Law Committee, said several weeks ago that the jail is a “tinderbox.”
Stout said that, once the virus is in jail, it would be difficult to contain because social distancing between staff and inmates at the jail is impossible.
Stout added that, because the jail is typically used for short-term detention, with arrestees booked in and out of the jail on a daily basis, an outbreak within the jail could quickly lead to community spread of the virus outside the jail.
Reach Daniel Berti at firstname.lastname@example.org
Friday, May 15: The Prince William-Manassas Adult Detention Center said Friday that two staff members have tested positive for COVID-19, while two additional staff members and 11 inmates are exhibiting symptoms consistent with the disease.
All 11 inmates have been given COVID-19 tests and the results are pending, according to a May 15 press release from Prince William County’s Joint Information Center.
An additional 58 inmates have been quarantined in the jail because they had contact with at least one of the sick staff members, the press release said.
The ADC received notification on Monday, May 11, that a former inmate, who was released on Friday, May 8, tested positive for COVID-19, the press release said.
The ADC also had two staff members report that they were staying home from work with symptoms consistent with COVID-19 on the same day, the release said.
On Thursday, May 14, the ADC received confirmation that two additional staff members tested positive for COVID-19, the press release said.
The Virginia Department of Health reported a COVID-19 outbreak in a correctional facility Prince William on May 14, but no additional information was provided about the outbreak. A City of Manassas official confirmed Friday that at least two individuals tested positive for the virus at the Prince William-Manassas ADC.
According to the press release, the ADC requested 60 test kits and received the first delivery on Wednesday, May 13.
ADC Superintendent Pete Meletis said, “The welfare and safety of the inmates and staff at the ADC are our number one priority.”
“From the very start of COVID-19, we’ve put numerous process and procedures in place to keep the virus out of the ADC, and as much as possible, to mitigate the spread of the virus if it were to enter the facility. We will continue to do everything we can to keep our inmates and staff safe,” Meletis said.
The ADC has two quarantine housing units, which are pod units with individual cells, so that inmates can be quarantined individually, the press release said.
One unit is used for all newly admitted inmates, and a second unit is designated for inmates who were in contact with the inmate who was released from custody.
The ADC is following all Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Virginia Department of Health guidelines, the press release said.
All staff and visitors receive temperature and symptom checks, and every staff person is required to wear a mask in the presence of inmates.
Inmates assigned to work detail receive two temperature and symptom checks daily. Cleaning, disinfecting and sanitizing have been and continue to be top priority, and increased disinfecting has been occurring on a regular and consistent basis since the beginning of the pandemic, the press release said.