A CLOSER LOOK: COVID-19 prison data as of 7/13

A Closer Look

3rd inmate death at EARU: Total for all prisons, 15

ARKANSAS (KNWA/KFTA) — The spike of COVID-19 infected inmates at Ouachita River Unit (ORU) may be due to testing too early, said Arkansas Health Secretary Dr. Nate Smith.

There are nearly 1,200 staff/inmates who have tested COVID-19 positive at ORU, according to the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) Congregate Settings report from Monday, July 13. On Friday, Hot Spring County, was number one for new cases with 145. Dr. Smith said most of those cases are from ORU.

ORU has had no deaths and 369 recoveries, according to the ADH report.

“When we went into ORU, we tested everyone in there — inmates and staff … many tested negative. But, if you’ve been exposed, a negative test cannot rule out infection. It means you could be infected, but the amount of virus is still too low to test positive. So, you have to go back and retest,” said Dr. Smith on Friday, July 10.

“If someone is exposed, initially test negative, but then develop symptoms, ya’ gotta’ go back and retest them,” he reiterated.

That’s why there is a spike in cases at ORU.

Individuals were exposed and became infected, but initially tested negative because it was too early in their infection to have a positive result. 

“We knew that was likely, we know that’s what happens when people are exposed,” said Dr. Smith. “We’ll continue to watch those individuals.

He said if someone comes in contact with a known case you have to be quarantined for 14 days even if that test is negative at first.

The retesting cases at ORU mainly involved inmates who became symptomatic, after testing negative the first time around. This type of retesting is called serial testing.

Serial testing is a strategy that will be used when possible.

“Right now with constraints on supply chains testing we may not be able to fully implement that recommendation everywhere it would be useful,” said Smith. “It’s a valuable recommendation [made by the Centers for Disease Control]. We already do this in some congregate settings, like nursing homes and correctional facilities, where the risk of transmission is extraordinarily high.”


  • Ouachita River Correction Unit: 1,162 positives, 369 recovered
  • Cummins State Prison/Modular Unit: 993 positives/recoveries, 11 inmate deaths
  • East Arkansas Regional Unit: 822 positives, 554 recovered, 3 inmate deaths
  • Forrest City FCI: 764 positives/recoveries
  • Randall L. Williams-Pine Bluff Unit: 286 positives/recoveries, 1 inmate death

EARU’s third inmate death happened on Sunday, July 12, according to the Arkansas Department of Corrections. He was taken to NEA Baptist Memorial Hospital in Jonesboro where he later died. He was being treated for COVID-19 related symptoms and was in his mid-60s.

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