Emily Allen Published

State’s Only County-Run Prison Deals With Largest COVID Outbreak Yet


West Virginia’s only county-run prison is experiencing the state’s largest coronavirus outbreak in a correctional facility to date, with more than half of its prisoners and a fifth of its workforce infected on Wednesday.

According to the governor, 260 prisoners and 30 employees at the Stevens Correctional Center in McDowell County have tested positive for the coronavirus within the last two weeks.

By Wednesday afternoon, the state Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation — which contracts with McDowell County — reported that almost 40 of those prisoners had recovered, according to CDC guidelines.

County officials say a couple of prisoners have been hospitalized so far, while the rest who are experiencing symptoms are being treated at the prison.

“It goes through us like a knife through butter,” Gov. Jim Justice said of the outbreak Wednesday, during a virtual press briefing. “It absolutely goes through us at a speed that is very, very difficult to stop.”

Although Stevens is county-run, the facility holds 390 prisoners for the state Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation. County commissioners say the facility has been adhering to the DCR’s policy for handling COVID-19 in correctional facilities.

That includes scanning employee temperatures and asking staff a series of COVID-19 symptom-related questions before allowing them to enter the facility each day.

“We do all of that, everyday, on every employee,” County Commission President Cecil Patterson said. “But, of course, some people are infected when they show up and they don’t have any symptoms.”

According to DCR policy, employees who have COVID-19 are expected to isolate at home.

Patterson said state leaders have provided the county with ample assistance and oversight.

According to public affairs officer Holli Nelson for the West Virginia National Guard, members have already cleaned three pods in the facility, to hold prisoners who have tested negative for the coronavirus.

Maj. Gen. James Hoyer said Wednesday during the governor’s press briefing that the effort “will take multiple days to work through.”

Other Correctional Outbreaks

Beyond the outbreak at Stevens, there were 10 other state prisoners on Wednesday and more than 30 DCR employees who recently tested positive for the coronavirus at other prisons, jails, juvenile centers and work-release programs, according to the DCR.

This isn’t the state’s first outbreak in a correctional facility.

The DCR first tested all of its prisoners and employees in June, while responding to more than 100 cases of the coronavirus at the Huttonsville Correctional Center in Randolph County.

The DCR then conducted facility-wide testing again at Mount Olive in Fayette County and the South Central Regional Jail in Charleston following outbreaks there.

So far, the state has reported three inmate deaths.

Federally, FCI McDowell — which is run by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons — has recorded 15 active inmate cases of the coronavirus and three staff cases.

According to the BOP’s website on Wednesday, there were about 180 federal prisoners with the coronavirus in West Virginia.

Emily Allen is a Report for America corps member.