Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced Wednesday that all state-run prisons and juvenile centers will have universal testing for the coronavirus.
Hogan didn’t specify when testing will happen, but said the state’s Public Health Laboratory continues to produce up to 10,000 tubes per week of viral transport media, or a chemical solution.
To help boost local testing capacity, more than 33,000 additional swabs will be distributed.
“Our state continues to make significant progress on all four of the necessary building blocks for our recovery, including on our long-term strategy to dramatically expand testing for COVID-19 across the state,” Hogan said in a statement.
Eric Solomon, spokesman for the state Department of Juvenile Services, said Wednesday that staffers are required to submit to an entry screening checklist for symptoms and possible exposure to COVID-19. Staff and youth received personal protective equipment and adhere to social distancing guidelines, and all admissions except for new arrests have been suspended.
As of Wednesday, juvenile services data shows confirmed cases amongst 18 staff members and five youth at the state’s 13 facilities.
All five youth and nine of the staff recovered, according to juvenile services data.
“As this situation evolves in the weeks and months ahead, we will continue to adjust our operations based on the best advice of health professionals to confront this fast-moving virus and keep our youth and staff safe,” Solomon said in an email.
According to the state Department of Public Safety and Corrections website as of Monday, there’s been 220 confirmed COVID-19 cases among uniformed officers, 102 inmates and 13 staffers. The five deaths are all inmates.
Approximately 180 have recovered, according to department data.
Mark Vernarelli, a department spokesperson, said Wednesday the correctional system continues to follow guidelines from the state’s health department and Emergency Management Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Vernarelli said that while complete social distancing in a correctional setting is “impossible,” several measures have been implemented to combat the spread of the virus, including:
– Inmates and staff receive masks, protective gear for staff, temperature checks and health questionnaires are being administered to staff at every shift change.
– Enhanced cleaning procedures and extra soap for inmates at no cost.
– Five 15-minute phone calls per week for free.
– Creation of a 24-hour family hotline for loved ones to ask questions related to COVID-19.
“We have social workers and mental health professionals on the tiers to assist the incarcerated,” Vernarelli said. “Chaplains are working to meet spiritual needs. Again, the safety and health of our employees and detainees and inmates is our top priority.”
Criminal justice advocates credited the governor for expanding universal testing at nursing homes, but said he hasn’t done enough for those incarcerated.
The ACLU of Maryland and Life Family Support Network filed a public-information request about two weeks ago to the state Department of Corrections to analyze the department’s protocols, policies and practices for who gets tested, the capacity of tests and number of tests conducted for inmates and staff.
ACLU also called for contact tracing to analyze positive cases and find the people who interacted with those officers and inmates who tested positive.
Sonia Kumar, senior staff attorney for the ACLU, said there’s no update on the group’s request to the department of corrections.
In regard to Hogan’s announcement on universal testing for those incarcerated, juveniles and staff, she said more information must be provided.
“It’s great to see a press announcement saying we’re going to do this, but it is very general,” she said. “We need specifics. What’s the plan? When can people start to get tested? We want to be sure that the state is going to be providing information about the actual number of people tested, the results, as well as the facilities they are tested in.”
The Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland sent a letter Wednesday to Hogan, asking him to incorporate more resources into prisons, especially since Blacks are just 30 percent of the state population but 70 percent of those incarcerated.
The caucus’s recommendations include immediate onsite testing of inmates who show symptoms of COVID-19, daily or regularly scheduled testing of correctional officers and staff, creating a “strike team” to facility testing and constant screening across the correctional system, and posting data such as age, gender and race on the state Department of Health’s website.
“We are greatly concerned for the lives of the Black Marylanders incarcerated in all correctional facilities and we urge you to act immediately,” Del. Darryl Barnes (D-District 25), the caucus chair, wrote in the letter. “We would welcome a dialogue with you to address these concerns as expediently as possible. The lives of Black Marylanders are on the line and we are counting on you to act with urgency to save lives.”
As of Wednesday, the statewide confirmed case count stands at 43,323.
According to a Johns Hopkins University-ran tracker, Maryland currently ranks 10th in the nation for confirmed cases.