Coronavirus spreads inside more Delaware prisons

A surge of COVID-19 cases behind bars has spread to multiple prisons in Delaware, mirroring the resurgence among the general public.

The COVID-19 treatment center at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center.

The COVID-19 treatment center at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center. (Department of Correction)

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More than 170 people being held at Delaware’s largest prison in Smyrna have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the state Department of Correction. That’s a big jump from a week ago, when the DOC reported just 18 cases at James Vaughn Correctional Center. Those cases were all confined to the same housing unit. The new patients are spread among four separate units.

Another 23 cases were reported last week at Baylor Women’s Correctional Institution south of Wilmington. As of Tuesday, the number of positives at Baylor was up to 36.

Eight people being held at Wilmington’s Howard Young Prison have also tested positive.

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“For the first time since COVID-19 reached Delaware, we have active inmate COVID cases at three separate facilities,” DOC Commissioner Claire DeMatteis said. “More than 86% of the inmates who have tested positive have no symptoms, and those with symptoms are mild. We are staying ahead of these clusters by identifying them proactively.”

Infected prisoners have been moved into quarantine at treatment centers inside the three facilities.

Of the more than 200 cases in the prison system, 86% are showing no symptoms of the illness. The remaining 14% are only exhibiting minor symptoms, DeMatteis said. Just one person being held in prison is in stable condition at a local hospital due to underlying health conditions.

Since the pandemic started, 551 people being held in prison have contracted the virus and recovered. Eleven have died.

Throughout the entire DOC, 59 staffers are fighting the virus currently, 21 at Vaughn and another 16 at Baylor. More than 200 prison workers have recovered from the virus since March.

As numbers started to rise last week, DOC officials reinstated a ban on in-person visitation. Work release programs were also suspended in hopes of preventing more transmission of the virus from the community into the prison.

The prison restrictions mirror increased measures for the general public in Delaware.

“We are in a resurgence, and we need to stay vigilant to limit the spread of this virus,” Gov. John  Carney said as he officially extended Delaware’s state of emergency for another 30 days on Wednesday.

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New restrictions in place as of this week include:

      • Indoor service at restaurants is cut from 60% of fire capacity to 30%, with allowances for additional outdoor seating.
      • Indoor gatherings in homes are limited to 10 people.
      • Indoor gatherings outside of homes are capped at 30% of the venue’s fire capacity, but no more than 50 people. This includes events such as weddings, funerals, religious services, performances, political gatherings and events in public spaces.
      • Outdoor public gatherings are limited to 50 people, but that cap can be expanded to 250 with the Division of Public Health’s approval.

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