Families offer details of COVID-19 outbreak at Augusta Correctional Center
The Virginia Department of Corrections COVID-19 dashboard currently reports 46 positive COVID-19 tests among inmates at Augusta Correctional Center in Craigsville, and 33 among staff.
The outbreak, according to two women with loved ones among the inmate population who reached out to Augusta Free Press, is the result of a series of missteps related to a recent two-week lockdown of the facility.
The women have pieced together what sounds to be a harrowing situation inside the prison through communications with their family members, and with others who have family in the prison population.
Both women said they had felt that ACC had seemed to manage the challenge of COVID-19 well from the beginning of the pandemic, but that all changed with the lockdown that was conducted last month.
What was supposed to a five-day lockdown ended up lasting two weeks, ending on Nov. 24, the women said.
“Since then, the facility has been a total mess,” one of the women said.
The story that they’ve been told from those on the inside is that officers-in-training were brought in to complement ACC staff in the lockdown effort, and that at least three of those staffers brought in from the outside tested positive for COVID-19, seeding the outbreak.
“They don’t take the proper precautions with employees. They only require them to take their temperature before reporting to work. And as we all know, you can be positive without having symptoms or fevers. But these particular officers-in-training were not screened for COVID before coming into the facility,” one of the women said.
On top of that, protective clothing such as gloves, masks and suits were not worn at all times by officers throughout the lockdown, and staff did not adhere to the cleaning and sanitation guidelines provided by the CDC.
“Floors weren’t mopped, surfaces were not wiped down. Several inmates stated the COs handled their mattresses and touched surfaces in the cells with no gloves, and that COs always walk around with no masks,” one of the women said.
According to the reporting that they’ve gathered from the inside, inmates who have tested positive “have been stuffed into the gymnasium like animals, not even basic, if any, medical care, showers or adequate essentials.”
One of the women said her loved one has put in five requests for medical care and has not been able to see a medical professional in more than three weeks.
“They have been cancelling video visits all week, without pre-warning. Our men have no hygiene products or food, as there is no commissary. And as of two hours ago, they locked our loved ones down yet again,” one of the women said.
“Yes, these men have committed crimes, and yes, they are incarcerated, but they’re still human beings,” one of the women said.
We reached out to the Virginia Department of Corrections for comment on this developing situation.
Our first effort, made early in the afternoon on Friday, was oriented toward just confirming the existence of the outbreak, and what was being done to mitigate the situation, when we were first made aware of it early Friday afternoon.
Gregory Carter, the deputy director of communications at VADOC, replied to that request with the following response:
“The VADOC is following CDC guidelines for corrections to help mitigate the spread of the coronavirus at Augusta Correctional Center,” Carter said. “Offenders testing positive are placed in medical isolation so they don’t infect others. Treatment follows the department’s COVID medical guidelines. We treat symptoms as they arise, just as you would in any primary care setting. We can provide many things, including oxygen, on-site. If they require an inpatient level of care, they go to a hospital.
“Our facilities are divided into green, yellow, and red zones. PPE in each zone is based on CDC guidelines. Red zones are for known COVID-19 areas, yellow zones are quarantined areas or busy areas with undifferentiated patients, and green zones are low traffic areas and places with no known COVID-19 cases and no symptomatic offenders.”
We followed up with Carter after making contact with the family members who reported details of conditions inside the prison to seek additional comment on behalf of VADOC.
As of this writing, it’s been three hours – late on a Friday evening – and we haven’t gotten a response yet.
When we get a response, we will update this story.
Story by Chris Graham