COVID spikes in state prisons

Ellen Gerst, Casper Star-Tribune via Wyoming News Exchange
Posted 10/19/21

Cases of COVID-19 at Wyoming prison facilities have spiked to their highest total since the start of the pandemic.

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COVID spikes in state prisons


CASPER — Cases of COVID-19 at Wyoming prison facilities have spiked to their highest total since the start of the pandemic. 

The most recent round of testing found 148 total cases of coronavirus across the state’s five facilities. The week before last, just 19 cases of COVID-19 were identified. 

Last week, 109 people incarcerated at the Wyoming Medium Correctional Institution in Torrington tested positive for COVID-19. Seven staff members at WMCI were also found to have the virus. As of mid-September, 574 people were incarcerated at the Torrington facility. 

The 116 total cases detected at the facility are the largest outbreak in Wyoming prisons since the beginning of the pandemic, Wyoming Department of Corrections spokesperson Paul Martin said Monday. 

While the state experienced a few smaller outbreaks in prisons earlier this year, Martin said that staffing shortages and employees in quarantine have made operations more difficult at WMCI. Staff that are still able to work, Martin said, are having to take over duties to which they aren’t normally assigned. 

Two people in contact with people incarcerated at WMCI told the Star-Tribune that due to a lack of room for isolation and distancing at the facility, dozens of people have been sleeping on the floor of the facility’s gym. 

Martin denied that on Monday, saying that the prison has enough beds for every person, with some extra spots still open to his knowledge. 

WMCI has been in a complete lockdown since last week, which means residents have 30 minutes out of their cells each day to shower, exercise and make calls. They take meals in their units, Martin said, and schooling and other programs have been paused. 

Seventeen inmates also tested positive at the Wyoming Honor Farm in Riverton last week. 

The Wyoming Honor Conservation Camp found seven total cases, two among staff. Five tested positive at the Wyoming Women’s Center and three at the Wyoming State Penitentiary, with three of those cases coming from facility employees. 

From late summer through the early fall, unvaccinated staff were driving infections among employees and inmates. 

Staff vaccination rates through the end of August were 38%, in line with Wyoming’s general adult population, while around 58 percent of the prisons’ incarcerated populations were fully inoculated. 

Updated numbers were not immediately available Monday. 

According to the Wyoming Department of Corrections’ policies, 20 percent of inmates and staff at all facilities are tested for COVID during any given week. If testing finds at least one case, the entire facility is tested the following week. 

While Martin said Monday that this testing policy is still being followed, two of the Star-Tribune’s sources familiar with the prison said that in some cases, people who had tested positive were removed from the testing pool for up to three months after their case was detected. 

Martin said the testing pools remain the same regardless of past test results. He said that WDOC’s COVID protocols have not changed over the course of the pandemic, even during surge periods, and that sanitizing, distancing and PPE are still mandated inside all facilities.