The number of inmates who have tested positive for COVID-19 at SCI Huntingdon is mounting, making this the prison with most cases in the state, even as people are now questioning just how many confirmed cases of COVID-19 are in the county, both in and out of the prison.
As of 5 p.m. Thursday there were 109 confirmed inmate cases of COVID-19 at SCI Huntingdon and 33 staff members who have tested positive for COVID-19. There are still only two confirmed staff cases and no confirmed inmate cases of COVID-19 at SCI Smithfield.
Maria Finn, spokesperson for the state Department of Corrections, said two SCI Huntingdon inmates who tested positive are currently at Penn Highlands Huntingdon.
The rest of the inmates being treated in the institution’s gymnasium that has been converted into an infirmary.
“The site is able to provide IV and oxygen therapy based on an inmate’s needs,” she said. “However, critical cases are and will be managed at the local hospital.”
Finn previously stressed the measures that all SCI facilities have taken to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
“We know that COVID-19 enters the inmate population from the community, which is why we have curtailed visitation and implemented screening and ‘source control’ for all staff and inmates,” she said.
All visitation at SCIs across the state was suspended effective March 13, and inmates were officially quarantined as of March 29, which means they are fed in their cells.
Employees, food services, medical staff and clergy who are contracted employees of SCIs across the state are screened before they enter the facility.
“All employees and vendors who must enter the facility are screened for COVID-like symptoms and must wear masks at all times when in the facility,” said Finn.
When inmates are out of their cells, they must wear face masks, and Finn said they are treated as potential “sources” for COVID-19, and separate quarantine measures have been taken for those who show symptoms, but may not be confirmed positive.
“All inmates are treated as potential sources, meaning people who are infected even if they are unaware of it,” she said. “All inmates must wear face masks when out of their cell. All inmate movement has been severely curtailed, and all symptomatic inmate patients are isolated, as well as their contacts, including those in nearby housing, are separately quarantined.”
The DOC doesn’t plan to test all inmates, including those without symptoms, at this time.
State Department of Health spokesperson Nate Wardle explained why.
“We continue to work with facilities with outbreaks, which includes long-term care facilities and correctional facilities regarding testing,” he said. “In some cases, if there has been widespread exposure, testing the entire population may not be productive, and it may make sense to assume those who have not been tested as probable cases.”
The DOC is offering testing for all staff members who may fail the screening questions or the temperature check before they enter the building each day at SCI Huntingdon.
Additionally, staff members who test positive also self report their results to the DOC. Staff members who test positive are counted in the DOH’s daily count for their county of residence.
As far as the data, people are questioning just how many of the confirmed cases of COVID-19 are related to SCI Huntingdon and how many are in the community.
One would think they all are, considering the official case number from the DOH for Huntingdon County is 109, but before the DOC announced their count Thursday evening, it was at 108, leaving people to believe there’s only one resident outside of SCI Huntingdon that has tested positive.
At the time the first inmates tested positive at SCI Huntingdon April 15, there were 12 total county cases, so it seems as if the total number of people in the county who are confirmed positive for COVID-19 should be higher than the official count as of noon Thursday, which was 109.
Wardle explained the issue of the data discrepancy.
“The issue may involve the data being reported to the department,” he said. “Just because corrections announces new cases that day, it may not mean that the data is reported to the department that day, and there could be a bit of a lag. We are seeing that with other entities that report to the department.”
Additionally, if one looks at the zip code map, in particular, for Huntingdon, which is in the 16652 zip code, the inmate numbers are not reflected on the map. According to the zip code map, there are 23 cases of COVID-19 in the 16652 zip code as of press time.
However, SCI Huntingdon has a zip code of 16654, not 16652.
Wardle also explained this discrepancy.
“The zip code layer on the map is based off the USPS zip code level,” he said. “For those zip codes that do not receive home mail delivery, they may not be included in the map. We are going through these extra zip codes across the state to add them into the map.”
For complete details on how the DOC is handling COVID-19 at all SCI facilities, go to www.cor.pa.gov/Pages/COVID-19.aspx. Go to www.health.pa.gov/topics/disease/coronavirus/Pages/Coronavirus.aspx.