The state Department of Correction will step up COVID-10 testing after a 10th inmate died of the virus Sunday.
The inmate who died was a 67-year-old man who was serving a 24-year and three-month sentence for larceny and other charges, DOC officials said. He was transferred from the medical isolation unit at MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution to an outside hospital on Nov. 26. He would not have been eligible for parole until 2031, officials said.
He is the second inmate to die from complications brought on by COVID-19 in a week.
A 44-year-old inmate died Friday. A total of ten inmates have died from COVID-19 including a 45-year-old man who passed away in mid-November.
DOC officials said they are now trying to step up weekly mass testing for staff and biweekly testing for inmates as part of the agency’s “efforts to minimize the spread of the virus.”
Like the rest of the country, the state’s prisons are experiencing a spike in COVID-19 infections, DOC officials said.
As of Monday there were 101 symptomatic inmates and 216 asymptomatic inmates including 26 women at York Correctional Institution. Approximately 2,000 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 since the coronavirus pandemic began impacting the state in mid-March.
The DOC had touted a low percentage of inmates testing positive for COVID-19 during a mass round of testing that ended on Nov. 13. But less than a week after announcing that there were only 44 asymptomatic inmates, COVID-19 cases exploded in the prisons with nearly 300 inmates testing positive for the disease.
As of Monday the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut was still waiting for a report from a monitoring panel tasked with visiting prisons to determine if the DOC is following an agreement with state officials to provide better healthcare, cleaning and social distancing during the pandemic.
The report is several months late. The agreement is the result of a lawsuit filed by the CT ACLU against former DOC Commissioner Rollin Cook and Gov. Ned Lamont. The lawsuit contended that the DOC wasn’t doing enough to protect inmates as COVID-19 was spreading through the prisons.
Advocates including the CT ACLU are calling on state officials to state make vaccinating inmates a top priority on par with residents of nursing homes and other congregate settings early next year.
According to the state, the prisons will fall into Phase 1b of the vaccination schedule which falls between mid-January and late May.
“We recognize that correctional institutions, nationally, have been high-risk areas,” Acting Public Health Commissioner Deidre Gifford said last week. “The Department of Correction has done an excellent job of keeping both our offenders and staff safe. And we’re all continuing to work very hard with testing, quarantine and isolation.”
“We understand the nature of the risk there and we’ll continue to work on further prioritization within those categories,” Gifford said.