COVID-19 cases rising in W.Va. jails

West Virginia’s Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation is good at keeping human beings inside jails and prisons. Now, the agency needs to do all it can to keep the COVID-19 virus from escaping, too.

Last Friday, Gov. Jim Justice revealed an inmate at the South Central Regional Jail in Charleston had died of COVID-19. The 40-year-old Wood County man, who was being held on federal charges, perished at a nearby hospital.

But the coronavirus had been controlled well at Mountain State jails and prisons — or so we thought. As of Friday, only 38 active cases of the disease had been reported throughout the corrections system.

That changed Monday. State officials reported 138 inmates at the Mount Olive Correctional Complex in Fayette County had tested positive for the virus. Scores of other prisoners had tests pending.

In general, the DCR has an excellent record. As of Monday, the agency reported no active cases of COVID-19 at nine of the 10 regional jails, none at 10 of the 11 prisons and none at any of the juvenile detention or community corrections facilities. Only the South Central Regional Jail, with eight cases, had any virus activity.

But a massive outbreak such as that in the Mount Olive prison — the state’s maximum security lockup — is serious indeed.

Local residents understand that all too well, because of what happened at an Ohio prison in Belmont County. There, nine inmates succumbed to the virus, with another death listed as probably from that cause.

In addition, however, the Belmont County prison outbreak resulted in some spread to the surrounding community. It is that which West Virginia officials simply must prevent at Mount Olive.

Nearly one-tenth of the total number of coronavirus cases in our entire state are in the prison. Clearly, state officials need to do whatever is in their power to keep the infection from spreading.


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