Late Thursday, the Oregon Department of Corrections issued a statement, saying an inmate at the Santiam Correctional Institution in Salem tested positive for COVID-19. The unidentified inmate is the first incarcerated person in the state’s prison system to test positive for the novel coronavirus.
DOC said it received the test result Thursday.
The inmate is in stable condition and being treated at the facility, but is moving to “an institution with 24-hour nursing care,” the agency said.
Roughly 480 inmates are housed at the Santiam facility. People who are incarcerated are considered at higher risk for contracting the virus, because it's extremely difficult to create enough social distance to prevent the spread of the virus in jails, prisons and detention centers.
On Wednesday, the Department of Corrections also announced a staff member at the Oregon State Penitentiary, who had contact with inmates and other employees, tested positive for the virus.
As of Wednesday, DOC had 10 inmates with negative tests, with three pending. One of those pending tests was presumably the case announced Thursday.
“We have been preparing for the spread of COVID-19 into our institutions, worksites and Community Corrections offices since the beginning of March,” DOC Director Colette Peters said in a statement. “Even with all of our preventative measures, like restricting visiting, social distancing, and suspending any programs, we knew the first case was inevitable because our institutions are microcosm of our communities.”
The agency has suspended visitors across the system, in hopes of slowing the spread. It’s also testing inmates with symptoms of influenza, like fever and shortness of breath, according to DOC.