Emily Allen Published

Corrections Officials Report First COVID Death In Charleston, More Than 30 Cases At Mount Olive


This article was updated Saturday, Aug. 29, to include details from the U.S. Marshals Service.

The first person to die of COVID-19 at a state-run jail is a 40-year-old man from Wood County who was being held on federal charges, according to a news release from the West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation on Friday.

He died at a hospital on Friday after testing positive for the coronavirus within the last week, the DCR said. Health officials determined during a preliminary assessment that he died from COVID-19.

The DCR reported that the man had underlying medical conditions. 

The U.S. Marshals Services confirmed late Friday evening that it was one of their prisoners in a state facility that had died. According to federal court records, the man was indicted in January on four counts of distribution and attempted distribution of child pornography, followed by a fifth count of possession of child pornography.

Records show he had an upcoming jury trial in September. A federal judge rescheduled his trial a few times after deciding against the original date in March. 

The U.S. Marshals Service reported Friday that it houses nearly 70 percent of its prisoners in facilities run by state and local governments. That includes the South Central Regional Jail, which data from the DCR shows was roughly 80 people over capacity on Friday. 

Officials for the DCR and the state Bureau for Public Health have consulted federal laws for health information privacy, according to BPH spokesperson Allison Adler, and are not providing “identifying details” around the man’s death.

That applies to information from state officials on the man’s medical treatment before dying, according to DCR spokesman Lawrence Messina. 

This first death in a state correctional facility comes more than three months after the DCR reported its first inmate case on May 19 at the Huttonsville Correctional Center in Randolph County, where more than 100 employees and prisoners later tested positive in the weeks that followed.  

The DCR reported its first employee case of COVID-19 on April 24

The Wood County man, who died at some point within the last week, tested negative for the coronavirus earlier in August during a facility-wide round of enhanced testing, according to the DCR.

Roughly 450 prisoners and 80 employees at the Charleston jail have tested negative for the coronavirus in the last month.

On Friday, the DCR reported seven active cases of COVID-19 among Charleston prisoners and 57 recovered cases.  

One employee for the Charleston jail still has COVID-19. The DCR reported on Thursday that six employees have recovered. 

The South Central Regional Jail was nearly 80 people over capacity on Friday.

Nine out of ten state jails were over capacity on Friday, according to data from the DCR. This is despite guidance from state court officials to county prosecutors and judges in March, requesting that they help reduce the number of people incarcerated for nonviolent crimes.

All state prisons were near or under capacity on Friday, according to data from the DCR.

Corrections officials were tracking more than 30 active cases of the coronavirus on Friday at the Mount Olive Correctional Center in Fayette County.

The agency is waiting on more than 850 results after testing all prisoners and staff at the southern West Virginia prison, according to the Friday news release. The DCR reported 13 Mount Olive employees with COVID-19 the same day.  

South Central Regional Jail and Mount Olive are the most recent facilities where the DCR has conducted enhanced testing of all prisoners, since wrapping up a statewide enhanced testing effort in June, following the outbreak at Huttonsville.

Emily Allen is a Report for America corps member.