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Coronavirus cases at Oregon State Penitentiary surge as 115 inmates test positive

COVID cases have been steadily growing at the Salem prison in May.
Credit: DANIELLE PETERSON / Statesman Journal
The Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem.

SALEM, Ore. — Coronavirus cases at the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem have been steadily growing on a daily basis.

As of May 19, 115 inmates and 26 staff members have tested positive, according to the state's Department of Corrections. Just a week prior on May 12, 57 inmates had tested positive. 

Fourteen tests are pending results. In total, 286 inmates at OSP have been tested for coronavirus.

According to the DOC, 45 inmates at OSP have been placed in medical isolation and 1,975 inmates are in quarantine.

Medical isolation means confining an inmate with a confirmed or suspected COVID-19 case to a single cell with a solid door that closes. In the Oregon State Penitentiary's case, a quarantine has been placed for the entire facility, meaning all inmates with symptoms are being tested. If any new cases are found, the 14-day quarantine starts back up.

The Oregon State Penitentiary has by far the highest concentration of inmates with coronavirus among the state's 14 prisons. 

A fight broke out among 215 inmates at OSP on May 10, but DOC officials say it was unrelated to COVID-19.

The other facilities that have positive coronavirus cases are:

  • Shutter Creek Correctional Facility: 25 inmates, 3 staff members
  • Santiam Correctional Facility: 7 inmates, 6 staff members
  • Two Rivers Correctional Institution: 1 inmate, 3 staff members

As of May 19, 504 inmates statewide have been tested for coronavirus, while 16 tests remain pending statewide.

Oregon's prisons house close to 14,500 inmates and they're run by more than 4,500 employees.

KGW spoke with Dr. Christopher DiGiulio, the chief of medicine for the Oregon Department of Corrections, in April. Dr. DiGiulio said he, along with an infectious disease specialist, nurses and volunteers honed in on a portion of the prison population that had “close contact” with an individual who tested positive. They’ve been taking the inmates' temperatures and asking them a CDC-approved questionnaire.

When asked if it’s possible to keep inmates 6 feet apart as recommended by the CDC, Dr. DiGiulio said, “We are doing our very best.”

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