During its evacuation of a prison last week because of wildfires, the Oregon Department of Corrections transported at least two inmates who have since tested positive for COVID-19.
More than 1,000 female and nearly 300 male inmates at the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility were evacuated because of threats from the Beachie Creek and Riverside fires burning southeast of Portland. The prison is about 15 miles south of the city.
The agency said one male and one female inmate tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday, though neither were displaying symptoms. They were transported by bus with other inmates from Coffee Creek to the the Deer Ridge Correctional Facility in Madras, about 120 miles over the Cascade Mountains.
The Department of Corrections said the inmates, which it refers to as adults in custody, or AIC, were tested on Sept. 5 and Sept. 6, but didn’t get the test results before evacuations occurred because of a delay with the labs.
“Once DOC received the test results, both AICs were immediately medically isolated and transported back to [Coffee Creek],” the Department of Corrections said in a statement. “The male from Intake had completed his 14-day observation period and was tested at the 10-day mark. The female AIC was tested as part of her release planning for later this month."
Oregon’s wildfires came amid the global coronavirus pandemic. For months, the state’s prison system has tried to keep inmates apart as it struggled with ongoing outbreaks of COVID-19. To date, the Oregon Department of Corrections has had more than 900 inmates and 225 staff members test positive for the novel coronavirus. Six adults in custody have died.
The cases come as family members and attorneys for those in the state’s prison system have warned about COVID-19 amid the evacuation. Inmates have been forced together at the very same time as the prison system has attempted to create social distance inside its facilities to slow the spread of the virus.
Last week, more than 2,500 inmates from four prisons were evacuated because of Oregon’s unprecedented wildfires. Apart from Creek Creek, some 1,300 inmates from other prisons near Salem were packed into the already nearly full Oregon State Penitentiary. For days, those men slept on cots and mats scattered around the prison. Some of those inmates have been allowed to return.