The exterior wall and a guard tower at a prison.

Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem, Ore., May 19, 2021. A man serving there died on Aug. 21, the Oregon Department of Corrections announced Friday.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

The Oregon Department of Corrections announced its first COVID-19 related death in months on Friday.


The state’s prison system doesn’t release the identities of people who die from COVID-19.

What we do know is that a man died on Aug. 21 while serving a sentence at the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem. He was between 50 and 60 years old and died at a local hospital, according to prison officials.

The man is the 43rd person in custody to die from COVID-19 in Oregon since the pandemic began. The most recent death before this one was in January, before vaccines were widely available.

The death comes amid a new wave of infections driving by the more contagious delta variant, which has filled intensive care units and emergency rooms across the state, testing the limits of the health care system.


Related: Inside OHSU’s fight to save the region’s sickest COVID-19 patients

Following a wave of COVID-19 deaths in January, a federal judge ordered the state to offer vaccines to all adults in custody. On Friday, the Oregon Department of Corrections noted that, not only has it offered vaccines to all adults in custody, but also all staff.

Corrections officers also were among the highest priority groups to get access to the vaccines after they were first available. Despite that, DOC estimates 50% - 55% of staff have received a vaccine, while 78% of the adults in custody are vaccinated. Union officials who represent corrections workers say the vaccination rate is higher than DOC has stated.

So far this month, of the roughly 115 positive cases of COVID-19 reported by the Oregon Department of Corrections, some 60% of them have been from staff. Just 40% of the infections were adults in custody, according to prison data.

Cases this month among staff at the Oregon State Penitentiary — where the most recent death occurred — largely preceded and outpaced the cases among inmates, according DOC data.

So far this month, at least 13 staff members at OSP reported testing positive for COVID-19. Just four inmates have tested positive in the same time period.