New coronavirus prevention efforts underway in prisons; inmates remain concerned

New coronavirus prevention efforts underway in prisons; inmates remain concerned
South Carolina Department of Corrections data show coronavirus cases in state prisons are declining following outbreaks at various facilities and 31 inmate deaths. (Source: SCDC)

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - South Carolina Department of Corrections data show coronavirus cases in state prisons are declining following outbreaks at various facilities and 31 inmate deaths.

SCDC has 416 active COVID-19 cases among inmates and staff as of Thursday. In total, they’ve had more than 2,800 cases and two staff deaths.

SCDC officials say efforts are underway to prevent the spread of the virus through their heating and air system. Families and inmates continue to express concern about the spread of the virus.

A family member of an inmate, Andrea Harbin, says her brother was hospitalized twice after testing positive for COVID-19 in a state prison.

“He said the hospital staff told him if he had been older he probably wouldn’t have made it,” Harbin said.

Harbin says her brother spent two weeks at the hospital during his second visit. She says he has asthma, making him more at risk for coronavirus. Her brother wrote her a letter after his diagnosis.

“Dear Ann, I got COVID-19 I had to go to the hospital, tell everybody to pray for me,” the letter stated.

Andrea says he’s still being treated for a blood clot in his lungs.

Director of South Carolina Department of Corrections Bryan Stirling says they collaborate with the Medical University of South Carolina and the Department of Health and Environmental Control when it comes to their prevention efforts.

“If I had a loved one that was incarcerated for committing a crime during a pandemic like this I would also be concerned, but I want them to know we’re doing everything we can,” Stirling said.

Stirling says they have assistance from the National Guard, health checks for staff, mask requirements, and foggers to disinfect living areas and more. SCDC is in the process of installing air ionizers at all state prisons.

“It tackles the virus and knocks it to the ground and then that kills it,” Stirling said.

Stirling says they believe the virus was spreading through their air and heating system because inmates were testing positive for COVID-19 without having any contact with someone who had it.

“I’m proud of our staff and what they’ve done, they work very hard in very difficult circumstances, and the inmate population has stepped up,” Stirling said.

As for Andrea, she’s hoping for quality healthcare for her brother.

“I hope they are getting more than the bare minimum for healthcare regardless of where they are. They need to be treated adequately,” Harbin said.

Stirling says they are working with state health officials to get the department of corrections on the COVID-19 vaccine list when it becomes available because of their communal living.

All 21 state prisons are expected to have the ionizers by the end of the year. They cost nearly $1 million. The department is hoping to use CARES Act funds to pay for it.

If you’d like to learn more about the agency’s response plan visit their website.

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