Dave Mistich Published

Inmate At West Virginia Corrections Center Tests Positive For Coronavirus

Gov. Jim Justice and his general counsel, Brian Abraham, give an update to the public regarding West Virginia's continued response to the coronavirus on Tuesday, May 19, 2020.

Gov. Jim Justice has announced the first positive case of the coronavirus in an inmate in the state’s jails and prisons. 

During a virtual news briefing held Tuesday, Justice said a 62-year-old male inmate at the Huttonsville Correctional Center in Randolph County tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19.

As of Tuesday morning, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources reports 67 deaths as a result of COVID-19. State health officials say they have confirmed 1,509 positive tests in the state.

“We’ve had wonderful, wonderful blessings that we have not had an issue in our jail systems and everything,” Justice said. “We knew it was probably coming — and when it came we’re trying to run to the fire and make sure we put it out and put it out as quickly as possible.”

On Monday, corrections officials said a part-time corrections officer at the facility also tested positive for the coronavirus. That officer was the second confirmed case of the virus within the state corrections system.

According to Justice and his general counsel, Brian Abraham, health officials in Randolph County do not believe that the two cases at Huttonsville Corrections Center are connected. 

“In reviewing the matter with the Department of Corrections and [the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety] this morning, the local health officials believe they have identified person zero in that case — that they know the source that brought the spread into the facility,” Abraham said.

During Tuesday’s briefing, Abraham did not provide further details on how the virus may have made its way into the facility. 

But in a phone interview with West Virginia Public Broadcasting, Abraham said there is suspicion that another employee at that facility may have  the virus. Abraham said that employee has a relative who has tested positive. 

“That employee has not agreed to take a test but is self-quarantining for 14 days,” Abraham said. 

Abraham said corrections employees who refuse to submit to a test when requested to do so can be denied entry to the facility. He also said employees who refuse tests and do not show up for work may be terminated under new federal rules from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. 

The governor said all prisoners and staff in the area where the inmate was housed will be tested — and that testing would be expanded to the entire facility if more people test positive.

Justice also announced he was lifting an executive order that called on out-of-state residents to self-quarantine for two weeks after coming into West Virginia.