RICHMOND — The Virginia Department of Corrections is leading the way in aggressively testing incarcerated offenders for COVID-19. While the nationwide struggle to adequately test for the coronavirus continues, the Virginia DOC has already tested more than one-third of the state’s approximately 29,000 offenders. Most offenders being tested have no symptoms; the DOC is conducting point prevalence testing to catch cases before there are any symptoms.
The Virginia DOC has been able to test on a scale that most congregate settings, from prisons to nursing homes, have been unable to do. The doctors, nurses, and medical staff at the DOC are working around the clock to test and provide care to offenders during this pandemic. Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women, which currently has zero cases among offenders and staff, Sussex I State Prison, and State Farm Correctional Complex are all being tested this week.
"I am proud that this Administration has supported substantial testing in our state correctional facilities," said Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian J. Moran. "Conducting point prevalence surveys (PPS) is critically important; this practice helps VADOC detect individuals who are asymptomatic and reduces the spread of COVID-19. The health and safety of DOC staff and offenders remains a top priority."
Thanks to partnerships with the Virginia Department of Health, the Virginia National Guard, Armor Correctional Health Services, Virginia Commonwealth University, University of Virginia, and the Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services, and the use of several private labs, the DOC has already tested more than 11,000 offenders.
“We are asking for an enormous, unprecedented undertaking on the part of our health care staff as well as our security and administrative staff during this time,” said Virginia Department of Corrections Director Harold Clarke. “From adhering to a comprehensive pandemic response manual to all the test tracking that has to be done by hand, as the Department doesn’t have an electronic health care records system, we have made a commitment to do everything we possibly can to keep our staff and offenders safe during this global pandemic.”
The point prevalence surveillance testing being done by the Virginia DOC involves testing asymptomatic offenders and staff, testing for surveillance purposes rather than as a response to symptoms. This enables the Department to monitor and treat positive cases sooner, rather than after symptoms develop, and to keep asymptomatic staff and offenders from spreading the virus.
Getting ahead of cases by testing offenders who aren’t showing symptoms has, as anticipated, caused the offender case numbers to increase significantly, just as would be likely to happen in any community which was able to conduct point prevalence testing of asymptomatic people. This mass testing at Virginia’s correctional facilities promotes the greatest possible transparency and allows us to reduce the spread of the virus.
At Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt, Virginia, nearly 3,000 offenders and all staff were tested. Fewer than 200 offenders received positive test results. All of the offenders tested during the point prevalence testing at Greensville had been asymptomatic. Had the Department not taken the proactive step of testing everyone, those individuals might have unknowingly spread the virus to many others.
The Virginia DOC is operating under a Pandemic Response Manual that follows American Correctional Association guidelines. The Department continues to plan for every possible contingency, following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for corrections and working closely with the Virginia Department of Health every step of the way.
All Virginia DOC facilities are following the DOC’s pandemic sanitation plan, and offenders and staff are required to wear appropriate PPE at all times, including medical-grade PPE, such as N-95 masks, when appropriate. Virginia Correctional Enterprises manufactures both utility face masks and cleaning supplies approved by the EPA for use in combating the coronavirus, so there is no shortage of either in the facilities.