ARKANSAS (KNWA/KFTA) — Arkansas Department of Corrections (ADC) Director Dexter Payne and newly appointed ADC Secretary Solomon Graves updated the COVID-19 situation at the correctional facilities at the daily briefing on Thursday, July 23.
The challenge to keep COVID-19 at bay is unique because the pandemic’s pathogens can easily be easily transmitted due to close quarters.
There are 841 active cases in the state prisons and other active cases are in jail settings, according to Secretary of Health Dr. Jose Romero.
There have been 166,000 cumulative tests done in prisons.
The Ouachita River Unit (ORU) in Malvern has nearly 600 (of 841) active cases and seven deaths. Two of the deaths happened in the last 48 hours, according to the Arkansas Department of Health’s (ADH) Congregate Settings report for Thursday, July 23.
Just three weeks ago, ORU had 369 active cases and then surged to more than 1,200 by mid-July, according to ADH data.
ADC reports 21 deaths and 25 hospitalized inmates. At one point there were 38 inmates in hospitals.
Other prisons with active COVID-19 cases are Cummins Unit (62) in Lincoln County, Tucker Reentry Center (20) in Jefferson County, and East Arkansas Regional Unit (14) in Lee County.
ORU’s environment has a special needs population within the prison environment: inmates with medical conditions, mental health issues, an elderly population, and serves as the prison hospital facility, according to Governor Hutchinson.
ORU can house up to 1,900 inmates, currently, there are 1,739 because intake from the counties has been halted. All inmates there have been tested, according to the governor.
“Every inmate entering the system is evaluated there,” the governor said, “unless they’re going to death row.”
The governor said he asked Payne and Graves to give special attention to the health needs of inmates, “and see if there’s is more that we need to be doing through Wellpath.”
Wellpath is the prison’s private health care provider.
At the briefing Governor Hutchinson said he cares about the inmates, “especially since they didn’t ask for COVID-19.”