By KEN MILLER, The Associated Press
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma Department of Corrections on Tuesday reported two more inmates have died due to COVID-19, and seven other deaths are possibly the result of the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Of the department’s nearly 25,000 inmates, 3,168 have tested positive for the virus, and 1,398 cases are currently active, according to DOC Director Scott Crow. The new numbers show increases of 554 positive cases and 414 active cases from Monday.
The nine deaths are an increase of six from the number reported a week ago. COVID-19 has been confirmed to be the cause of death for two inmates, while the seven other deaths are pending autopsy from state medical examiner.
Crow said difficulty in achieving social distancing within prisons has contributed to the increase in positive cases in recent weeks, in addition to resistance to wearing masks.
“Sometimes, just as we see in the public, especially with our inmate populations, they’re averse to actually wearing masks” Crow said.
An influx of inmates from county jails and the recent closures of two prisons have resulted in inmates getting pushed into other prisons, leading to the spike in positive cases, even though inmates are tested when they’re transferred to prisons, Crow explained.
“The test is only good for the day upon which it was administered … there have been inmates that we have actually brought into the system that tested negative the day before they came to DOC, and then a day or two after they were brought into DOC they tested positive,” Crow said.
Another contributing factor, Crow said, is staff members in communities where the virus is spread.
“When we’ve seen an increase or a spike in number of cases in the public … our staff are a part of that, and they come to work on a daily basis,” Crow said. “I believe all three of those variables have actually contributed to an increase in the numbers that we have.”
Crow said some staff declined the department’s offer of voluntary testing for the virus and will adopt a recommendation that all staff be tested for the virus, which was announced by interim Oklahoma State Department of Health Director Dr. Lance Frye.
“We are working alongside the Department of Corrections to implement in order to keep our prison population safe, OSDH is recommending … mandatory testing of all staff, 25% each week or at least 100% a month,” Frye said.
Gov. Kevin Stitt also announced $2 per hour in additional hazard pay for DOC staff working in prisons deemed a hot spot.
ODOC declares a prison a hot spot when at least 20% of the population in a facility with celled housing tests positive for COVID-19 or at least 15% in open bay housing, according to Crow.
Statewide, more than 1,000 new confirmed cases per day have been reported each of the past six days by the health department, with a total of 79,072 reported cases on Tuesday and 962 deaths due to COVID-19— which are increases of 1,164 cases and 14 more deaths from totals reported on Monday.
The actual number of cases in Oklahoma is likely higher because many people haven’t been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected and not feel sick.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
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