Fresh surge of COVID-19 cases strike women’s prison

By Heather Michon

On Dec. 1, the Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) registered zero cases of COVID-19 among inmates and staff at Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women (FCCW). By Dec. 23, that number had grown to 138 inmates and 29 staff.

This brings the cumulative number of cases since March to 333, or about 35 percent of the total prison population. To date, no fatalities have been reported.

Correctional facilities across the state are seeing an uptick in COVID numbers, in lockstep with the statewide and national rise in cases following the Thanksgiving holiday. On Dec. 1, VDOC was reporting 398 active cases among the state’s 41 prisons; by Dec. 27, cases were 1,174. That is an increase of 195% percent in less than one month.

FCCW saw its first major outbreak of the virus in mid-September, when mass testing found 115 cases among inmates and 10 within the staff.

Prisoners’ advocates have voiced serious concerns about the facility’s ability to care for COVID-19 infected cases. Shannon Ellis of the Legal Aid Justice Center said in September that FCCW is where the state sends its sickest female prisoners, many of them elderly. This makes them especially vulnerable to the impact of COVID.

Unlike the September outbreak, this current surge in cases has hit employees and contractors with some force. As of Dec 27, VDOC listed 39 positive cases among staff.

Megan Keenan, an attorney for several prisoners, said in a text that her clients were scared, telling her that staff was “stretched thin” and stressed as the virus continues to spread.

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