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Over 300 Sussex inmates have COVID-19

Delaware News Desk
Smyrna/Clayton Sun-Times
Smyrna/Clayton Sun-Times

Over 300 inmates at Sussex Correctional Institution in Georgetown have tested positive for the coronavirus.

About two weeks ago, three Sussex inmates were found to be infected with COVID-19. Since then, the Department of Correction has tested all 973 Sussex inmates and found 320 of them to be positive. Twenty test results are still pending.

Of the Sussex inmates that tested positive, 90% of them are asymptomatic. 

“This infectious disease predominately hit three open dormitory-style housing units at SCI,” Department of Corrections Commissioner Claire DeMatteis said.

Twenty-one Sussex correction officers have tested positive and another 18 are self-isolating, awaiting test results.

Seventeen inmates at Morris Community Corrections Center in Dover have also tested positive for COVID-19, which the department says occurred after three Sussex inmates were transferred there. No Morris correction officers have tested positive.

DeMatteis said there has been an "unprecedented relocation of inmates" to different housing units in Sussex to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. She also said they are conducting "extensive specialized decontamination cleanings."

As a precautionary measure, Sussex and Morris inmates with underlying health conditions who tested negative for COVID-19 have been moved to a housing building at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna.

All Sussex and Morris inmates were tested when the initial positive test results were returned two weeks ago. New intakes were temporarily suspended in Sussex and two-week isolation was initiated for all new inmates at other facilities. Visitation was suspended, as well as all prison programming. Face masks have been provided to every inmate in level four and five Department of Correction facilities. All Department of Correction employees are being offered voluntary testing. 

Now, the Department of Correction is suspending visitation across all of its facilities, effective Tuesday, July 14. Video upgrades are being "sped up" to expand telemedicine and inmate programming. Inmate temperature checks and screenings will restart this week at Howard R. Young and Baylor Women's Correctional Institutions in Wilmington.

A COVID-19 treatment center opened July 11 at Sussex Correctional, where 227 of the inmates that tested positive are now housed. Another 87 are housed at the COVID-19 treatment center at Vaughn Correctional in Smyrna.

ACLU of Delaware speaks out

Of the 320 Sussex inmates that tested positive, 90% of them are asymptomatic. 

“If that many people are asymptomatic in one facility it begs the question: how many people are asymptomatic and spreading the virus in other facilities?” said ACLU Delaware Executive Director Mike Brickner. “This is a question that we simply can’t answer without universally-available testing.”

Brickner and the ACLU recommend the Department of Correction: 

  • Make testing available to every incarcerated person and employee in every facility

  • Provide proper personal protection equipment to all people living in department facilities across the state

  • Immediately release the most vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19 and those within six months of the end of their sentence, where there is little to no risk to public safety.

“DOC must immediately make testing and PPE universally available to everyone in its facilities. While DOC has done so for people in the facilities experiencing an outbreak, they must take immediate action to track and prevent the spread of COVID-19 in other facilities," Brickner said. "What we are witnessing in the Sussex facilities is a direct result of past inaction.”