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COVID-19 Cases Spike At Eastern Oregon Prison

July 15, 2020

New numbers released from the Oregon Department of Corrections show a spike in cases of COVID-19 at the Snake River Correctional Institution in Ontario.

The disease is currently infecting at least 120 people in custody and 21 staff. The prison houses more than 2,700 inmates, who are being quarantined to slow the spread.

DOC will continue to clean common areas, screen employees coming and going from work, and test inmates who show symptoms, according to agency spokeswoman Jennifer Black.

“We take the new cases of COVID-19 at Snake River Correctional Institution seriously, and the health of our employees and the people we incarcerate is our highest priority,” Black said. “DOC employees are working around the clock to provide appropriate healthcare and we are working closely with the Oregon Health Authority and the Malheur County Health Department.”

In April, the Oregon Justice Resource Center filed a lawsuit against DOC and Gov. Kate Brown over the state’s response to COVID-19 inside prisons. In May, a federal judge denied an injunction, saying the state was doing enough to address the virus.

Executive Director Bobbin Singh said he’s worried healthcare in rural communities could quickly become overrun.

“How we manage COVID-19 in prisons is resoundingly connected to how we manage COVID-19 in the community,” Singh said in a statement. “Prisons are not static environments. Rather, it is dynamic and with a sizeable churn of individuals in and out of the prisons on a regular basis. This means that COVID-19 will not stay in the prisons, but rather boomerang back into the community as the State is trying to desperately flatten the curve.”

Nearly 400 inmates and prison staff statewide have contracted the virus since the pandemic began. Close to half of Oregon’s roughly 14,000 inmates are quarantined, according to the Department of Corrections. 

In addition to inmates at Snake River, inmates at the Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution and the Oregon State Penitentiary are under quarantine.  

Attorneys have expressed concerns about challenges reaching their clients in some of the prisons.

In May, one inmate died from COVID-19.

This story was originally published by Oregon Public Broadcasting and is posted here as part of a content-sharing agreement among Northwest news outlets.