The death of a man locked up inside the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem has been linked to the novel coronavirus, authorities say.
The Oregon Department of Corrections announced the death of an adult in custody, who was between 50 and 60 years old, on Thursday, May 21. Next-of-kin have been notified and the state Medical Examiner continues to investigate the exact cause of death.
Officials say the man died at a hospital and had tested positive for COVID-19.
In total, some 38 workers in the state correctional system and 148 inmates have tested positive for the disease. More than 14,500 adults are in custody across 14 prisons in Oregon.
All workers are now screened for symptoms before entering prison facilities, and have access to hand-washing stations outside entrances. For those behind bars, posters with health tips have been distributed.
"Institutions are cleaning numerous times a day, including disinfecting housing units, bathrooms, eating areas, doors, stairwells, countertops, etc.," according to a news release.
Some prisoners say the measures are inadequate — and their claims of poor sanitary conditions already have sparked a federal civil-rights lawsuit alleging violations of Eighth Amendment's protections against cruel and unusual punishment.
Lawyers for the Oregon Justice Resource Center said Wednesday, May 20, that one of their seven plaintiffs already has been sickened with the disease. They seek damages and a judicial order to mandate social distancing and other quarantine measures at the prisons.
"There is an urgent and clear need for a comprehensive program of prevention, testing, and care to be implemented throughout Oregon's prisons," said Juan Chavez, a director at the resource center. "Gov. Brown must no longer ignore the reality that prisons are not built to withstand a global pandemic and act on the knowledge she has of the risk of harm that exists for all those who work and live in the prisons."
For its part, the public-private Oregon Corrections Enterprises has tasked its workers with manufacturing face masks at Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution, Two Rivers Correctional Institution and Coffee Creek Correctional Facility.
"DOC is identifying the especially vulnerable population within the institutions and intensifying the efforts to reduce potential exposure and transmission," officials say. "If an (adult in custody) becomes ill and exhibits flu like symptoms, then CDC and OHA guidance for supportive care will be followed."
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