Two COVID-19 outbreaks now tied to correctional facilities

Published 3:15 pm Friday, July 3, 2020

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The Virginia Department of Health reports there are now two correctional centers in the Western Tidewater Health District with COVID-19 outbreaks, but all three lockup facilities in the region say it isn’t them.

In April, the Virginia Department of Corrections had reported 51 cases of the virus among inmates at Deerfield Correctional — a state prison located in the Capron area of Southampton County. To date, the facility has seen 78 confirmed cases among inmates, one of whom has died, and another three cases among staff. Combined, these account for 81 of the 82 cases the VDH is reporting for Capron’s ZIP code.

According to Dr. Todd Wagner, director of the Western Tidewater Health District, the term “correctional facility” refers only to prisons and jails, not holding cells in police stations or courthouses. When asked if two separate outbreaks could be tied to the same facility, Wagner indicated this was indeed possible if the VDH had declared the first outbreak closed following two incubation periods without new cases.

But that isn’t what happened, according to a spokesman for the Department of Corrections.

“I checked Deerfield’s COVID data from this morning and it is the same as it has been over the last two days,” said Gregory Carter, public information officer for Deerfield, on Tuesday — the same day the VDH began reporting this new outbreak.

As of Friday, the Department of Corrections website was reporting the same number of cases at Deerfield as it had on Tuesday, with a disclaimer that due to system maintenance, there would be no update to case numbers for July 3. Still, this indicates that Deerfield’s caseload has remained unchanged from Tuesday through Thursday, which supports Carter’s assertion that there are no reports of new confirmed cases at the prison.

Col. William Smith, superintendent of the Western Tidewater Regional Jail in Suffolk, also denied his facility being the source of this outbreak.

“We have no cases of COVID-19 at this time,” he said.

The jail had, however, reported that one of its officers had tested positive for the virus in mid-May. According to a press release the jail issued at the time, that officer had been scheduled to work May 11 and 12 but had called out sick, and received his positive test result a few days later. Jail staff immediately re-screened all inmates in the area where the officer was assigned and at that point, no inmates were showing symptoms. All staff members who worked closely with the officer were also tested at the time, and all received negative results.

If Deerfield and the WTRJ aren’t the source, that leaves only one possibility: the Southampton County Jail and Jail Farm. But Maj. Camden Cobb, spokesman for the Southampton County Sheriff’s Office, said neither of these facilities have any cases either.

“I verified with the jail nurse that no inmates are being treated for COVID-19 or for symptoms similar or suspected of being COVID-19,” Cobb replied via email on Wednesday.