Philly department of prisons issues shelter-in-place amid COVID-19 spike

The correctional complex on State Road in Philadelphia.

The correctional complex on State Road in Philadelphia. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

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Reporting a spike in asymptomatic COVID-19 cases, the Philadelphia Department of Prisons issued a shelter-in-place order Saturday.

People who are detained in the four city-run correctional facilities will remain in their cells unless it’s to shower, make phone calls or have virtual meetings with their attorneys. Starting Dec. 15, those incarcerated will be able to leave their cells for video meetings with family.

In a statement announcing the shelter-in-place order, the PDP pointed to the surge of coronavirus cases in Philadelphia and the surrounding metropolitan area.

For Philadelphia, November saw the highest number of new coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic.

“The PDP has made every effort to mitigate being affected by that surge, but, due to this latest uptick in positive cases, it is in the best interest to protect the health and safety of our staff, contractors, inmates and everyone within our PDP facilities to return to shelter in place,” read the statement.

The spread of COVID-19 in prisons has been a concern since the start of the pandemic because of all the spaces people share and issues with crowding. In April, people who are incarcerated also flagged unsanitary conditions in facilities and accused the PDP of not giving them enough cleaning products to disinfect their cells — a claim disputed by the city.

As of Saturday morning, the department reported 14 symptomatic cases and 136 asymptomatic cases among the more than 4,200 people in the city’s four facilities.

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