OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – The director of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections addressed the growing number of COVID-19 cases and deaths behind prison walls at a news conference Tuesday.
“Unfortunately, we’ve had nine inmates die as a result of COVID-related illnesses. All of those individuals actually had co-morbidities that contributed to their deteriorating health,” Director Scott Crow said. “It’s a number that absolutely makes me sick.”
So far, two of the nine cases are confirmed as being COVID-related. The others, as well as the three staff deaths, will be confirmed after the medical examiner performs an autopsy.
The state is currently tracking six hotspots at facilities across Oklahoma, including the Eddie Warrior Correctional Center in Taft, which prompted protests and threats of lawsuits against the state.
“The thing that is unique about Eddie Warrior is the numbers increased so significantly, so quickly that instead of having to isolate them from the rest of the population, most of that population was positive, so then we actually had whole housing units that were isolated,” Crow said.
Oklahoma State Department of Health officials now recommend that DOC mandate testing for staff and increase testing for vulnerable inmates.
In addition, it is working with the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality to test waste water at facilities to identify potential COVID-19 cases.
The DOC director is promising to get it right. He announced the agency will now provide hazard pay to staff during outbreaks.
“This is something that I take really personal because I want to do everything that we can to safeguard the citizens of Oklahoma, and again, that includes those behind prison walls,” Crow said. “All Oklahoma lives matter and whether it is just someone in the public or it is someone that is incarcerated in our prison system, all Oklahoma lives matter.”
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