The Department of Health formally lifted the public health quarantine at the St. Thomas jail last week, according to a release from the Bureau of Corrections.
The jail, called the Alexander A. Farrelly Criminal Justice Complex, stopped taking new inmates and largely locked down after at least 20 inmates and staff were infected with COVID-19.
Since then, over the course of the outbreak, a total of 36 prisoners and 11 staff tested positive for the coronavirus and all have since recovered, according to the release. The agency reports no prisoner required hospitalization and all staff who tested positive have returned to work. As of Thursday, there are no active coronavirus cases at the St. Thomas jail.
The last positive test result for the coronavirus at the St. Thomas jail was on Sept. 8, when a prisoner tested positive. Afterward, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Health Department conducted two rounds of testing without finding any new cases among staff or prisoners. After two consecutive weeks of negative test results, the Health Department, in consultation with the CDC, agreed to lift the public health quarantine at the St. Thomas jail.
“I am extremely proud of the work by BOC staff on both islands,” said Wynnie
Testamark, director of the Bureau of Corrections. “We successfully managed the outbreak at the St. Thomas jail, so that no inmate required hospitalization. And we have prevented the introduction of COVID-19 at John Bell thus far. We are grateful that the staff and prisoners at the St. Thomas jail who tested positive for the coronavirus have since recovered.”
Testamark credited the nursing staff, who she said “spotted the early COVID-19 symptoms among two cellmates on a Sunday afternoon and immediately swung into action. Their early, decisive and correct action probably saved lives.”
According to the Corrections Bureau, there still has been no suspected or reported case of coronavirus at the larger territorial prison, the John A. Bell Facility in Estate Golden Grove on St. Croix.
The St. Thomas jail is reportedly now cleared to accept new intakes, though it remains closed to all visitors and contractors. All new intakes must still be tested for the coronavirus before arriving at the jail and quarantined for 14 days before entering the general jail population.
According to the agency, the staff continues to wear personal protective equipment “when appropriate.”
Work detail, work release and furlough programs for inmates remain suspended until further notice at both the St. Croix and St. Thomas facilities.
Attorneys may visit with prisoners by video conference by contacting the facility to schedule a video visit.
The release says Corrections has also stockpiled necessary personal protective equipment for its staff, including N95 respirators, surgical masks, gloves, gowns, face shields and Tyvek suits. Also, the agency said it has “negative pressure” isolation tents, ordered before the outbreak, which has lower air pressure inside, filtering the air before release to avoid spreading the virus. These can be used to temporarily isolate any prisoner with an infectious disease.
The bureau has also asked for COVID-19 rapid testing machines at each facility but the release does not indicate it has received them.