Home News COVID-19 Situation Correctional Center deals with spike in COVID-19 cases

Correctional Center deals with spike in COVID-19 cases

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Less than two weeks ago, the Roswell Correctional Center in Hagerman did not have any documented COVID-19 positive test results among its inmate population, but the minimum security state-run Correctional Center has since experienced a surge in cases.

The first documented positive test result was detected among the Correctional Center’s inmate population Nov. 1, according to a daily report on the virus from the New Mexico Department of Health.

Since then, a total of 218 cases of COVID-19 have been recorded at the Correctional Center. To date in all but four of those cases, the individuals have been asymptomatic, meaning they do not exhibit symptoms of the virus, according to Eric Harrison, public information officer with the New Mexico Corrections Department.

According to the Department of Health, the Correctional Center now has the second-highest number of positive test results among inmates at New Mexico’s 11 state-run correction facilities. The Otero County Prison Facility has had 472 documented cases among state inmates.

When reached for comment about the spike in cases, Correctional Center staff referred the Roswell Daily Record to the New Mexico Corrections Department.

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The influx of positive tests among state inmates comes as counties throughout the state are seeing a steep rise in cases.

Harrison acknowledged that much like other congregate living facilities — such as nursing homes — the risk of spread is high at correction facilities.

That problem is especially apparent, he said, in communities where people are not taking actions to slow the spread, such as wearing a mask and social distancing.

“If folks in the community are not following the public health order there is going to be spread that can make its way into our institutions,” he said. Harrison added that is why it is important that people follow the guidelines in the governor’s emergency public health orders, as well as social distance.

With access limited in correction facilities to inmates and staff, Harrison said it is employees at the facility who regularly come into work and go home who often become carriers of the virus.

“We have staff that are very dedicated to the health and well-being of the inmate population, but they have to go home to their communities,” Harrison said. “When we see community spread and see cases in the community, we see staff contract it and that is when it is brought in,” he said.

In an attempt to prevent infections, staff at any of the state’s correctional facilities are screened and their temperatures checked before the start of each shift.

Correctional Center employees who test positive, or are discovered through contact tracing to have been near someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, must self-isolate for 14 days and produce two negative test results for the virus before returning to work.

Harrison also stressed that each corrections facility has medical professionals on its staff to monitor the medical condition of inmates.

“It’s not just COs, corrections officers, who are checking on these folks,” he said.

“So those are the ones who are the ones that are going around checking for symptoms and ensuring that these inmates receive the proper care,” Harrison stated.

The Corrections Department has partnerships with hospitals around New Mexico, which inmates can be transferred to. Harrison said he does not believe any inmates from the Roswell Correctional Center have so far been hospitalized.

Aside from medical care, the Corrections Department has taken measures to curtail the spread of the virus in their facilities.

“We have really increased the cleaning schedules and made it a lot more stringent how we clean,” he said.

Inmates have been provided with cleaning supplies for their own personal areas, while each inmate’s weekly allocation of hygiene products has been doubled since the pandemic.

Harrison said each inmate is now issued two reusable face coverings, so they will have one to wear while their second face covering is being washed, and that employees are also issued masks.

Since the pandemic began, the state has also sought to lower its prison population to enhance social distancing and mitigate spread.

The Corrections Department and probation and parole departments are working in conjunction with the judiciary and New Mexico Office of Public Defenders to get individuals held solely on technical parole violations released, Harrison said.

In April, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham issued an executive order directing the Corrections Department to compile a list of individuals incarcerated who can be eligible for release, as long as they are non-violent offenders are no more than 30 days from their scheduled release and have a parole plan in place, among other criteria.

Harrison said that to date, 230 individuals who have met those standards have been released from state correctional centers, including 16 from the Roswell Correctional Center.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to indicate the number of individuals testing positive who are asymptomatic.

Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301 or breakingnews@rdrnews.com.

To keep up with local coverage of the coronavirus, go to rdrnews.com/category/news/covid-19-situation/.