PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The female inmate who contracted COVID-19 in the South Dakota women’s prison system in Pierre was part of the Pierre Community Work Center and so were the five inmates who escaped Monday night, state officials said.
A ninth inmate also left the PCWC Monday night but has been taken into custody. That inmate is being tested for COVID-19, said Kim Malsam-Rysdon, the secretary of the Department of Health.
The inmate who tested positive for COVID-19 is in isolation, Malsam-Rysdon said during a Tuesday morning news conference.
The women’s prison had 230 inmates on Feb. 29, the most recent data on the South Dakota Department of Corrections website. The PCWC had 180 inmates and Unit E had 93.
Malsam-Rysdon said the department of health was determining if the eight remaining escapees had contact with the innate who has COVID-19.
Prisons can be fertile grounds for illnesses because of close quarters and other reasons including underlying medical conditions.
In relation to the COVID-19, the Center for Disease Control says “Incarcerated/detained persons live, work, eat, study, and recreate within congregate environments, heightening the potential for COVID-19 to spread once introduced. “
Even the use of hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol can be a challenge in prisons because most have banned use by inmates or have restrictions on it, according to the CDC.
A study shared by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics says that more than half (53%) of female jail inmates reported having a current medical problem, compared to about a third (35%) of male inmates.
Various studies indicate that medical issues include asthma, kidney problems, heart issues and others in both men and women.
The South Dakota DOC has shared that it has taken measures to protect inmates and staff from COVID-19.
Visitors and volunteer visits to all corrections facilities stopped on March 12. As of March 17, “work release inmates and Community Transition Program parolees housed in the various DOC community work centers in Sioux Falls, Rapid City, Pierre and Yankton were not allowed to leave the prison to work in the community,” the DOC said on its website.
On March 19, the DOC said it was waiving all co-pays for inmates who reported a respiratory illness.
The DOC said on March 20 that it “continues to accept new inmates from county jails. New inmates continue to go through the Admissions and Orientation (A & O) process, including medical and other assessments and evaluations. Inmates are being transferred between DOC facilities only if necessary and after appropriate medical screening. “
‘If an inmate becomes symptomatic, we will follow the proper protocols from guidelines outlined by the CDC,” the DOC said on March 23 after a female inmate tested positive for COVID-19.
The CDC has guidelines for COVID-19 specific to corrections facilities. Guidelines include medical isolation of confirmed and suspected cases and quarantine of contacts, including considerations for cohort when individual spaces are limited and considerations for persons at higher risk of severe disease from COVID-19.