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Department of Correction suspends in-person visitation as COVID-19 cases rise in Delaware

Brandon Holveck
Delaware News Journal

The Delaware Department of Correction is suspending in-person visitation to its prisons and work release and violation of probation facilities as COVID-19 cases spike across Delaware.

The suspension takes effect Thursday. In a statement, DOC Commissioner Claire DeMatteis called it a proactive measure intended to protect inmates and staff.

Over the past week, Delaware has averaged 257 new cases per day. It's the state's highest seven-day average ever. There are 126 people hospitalized with COVID-19.

The recent spread of the virus, experienced statewide, has prompted concern from state officials, who say they are considering new restrictions to slow the spread.

Sussex Correctional Institution in Georgetown, Del.

"We might have to do something that gets the attention of folks so that it’s more top of mind," Carney said Tuesday, without specifying what restrictions might look like. "The unstructured indoor environments are the ones that are harder to get to but, it seems to be, where the greatest risk is as opposed to indoor environments where you can impose restrictions, like restaurants."

The latest wave of cases, at least so far, has not significantly affected Delaware's correctional facilities. According to the DOC, there are two "active" COVID-19 cases among inmates across the state's eight facilities. There are 15 cases among DOC staff. No inmates have tested positive since Oct. 29.

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There have been previous outbreaks in DOC facilities, the most severe of which saw more than 300 inmates at the Sussex Correctional Institution test positive in July.

In response to outbreaks, officials have shut down and reopened in-person visitation multiple times. After containing the July outbreak, officials allowed visitation to resume on Sept. 1.

Department of Corrections Commissioner Claire DeMatteis shown in a file photo.

According to DOC spokesperson Jason Miller, about 2,000 inmates have been tested for COVID-19. About 500 of those tests have been administered since September, he said, when cases started to rise again in Delaware.

According to the DOC website, the agency oversees between 4,500 and 5,000 inmates.

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Inmates who show symptoms are tested and isolated, as well as cellmates who would have been in close contact, Miller said. Positive test results could prompt daily temperature and symptom checks in the affected housing unit and additional inmates being tested depending on the situation, Miller said.

To date, 560 offenders have tested positive and 11 have died from complications related to the virus.

The DOC has touted its "aggressive cleaning, screening and mitigation measures," which began in the spring. 

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The screening for people entering a facility involves questions about their medical condition and whether they have had any direct or indirect contact with someone who has been tested for COVID-19 or is in quarantine, and a forehead temperature check.

Officials said they identified the two "active" cases through "proactive" screening and testing and both individuals are receiving treatment. 

When visitation is suspended, the DOC has increased the use of video visitation. The agency is also providing one free five-minute phone call per week to all inmates.

Contact Brandon Holveck at bholveck@delawareonline.com. Follow him on Twitter @holveck_brandon.