Cases of COVID-19 climbing at Connell prison

Coyote Ridge
Photo: Washington Dept of Corrections

CONNELL, Wash – Cases of COVID-19 continue to climb inside Eastern Washington’s Coyote Ridge Corrections Center; 82 inmates and 35 staff now have confirmed cases of the virus.

That means the prison, which houses 2,468 men in various custody levels, has the worst outbreak of any prison in the state. The second highest level of confirmed cases is at the Monroe Correctional Complex, which has 19 inmates and 10 staff with confirmed cases.

Despite the growing number of cases, the Department of Corrections does not plan to test all inmates and staff. According to a DOC website with updated COVID-19 information, the DOC has only tested 606 people.

Last week, the DOC announced the medium-security complex at Coyote Ridge has been placed on “restricted movement” to contain the spread. Since that date, 11 more inmates and five more staff members have tested positive.

As of June 10, 1,815 inmates were in quarantine at the facility, meaning they were exposed, but did not have symptoms and “are separated from healthy people,” according to a news release from the DOC.

The CDC has long warned of the danger of COVID-19 spreading through jails and prisons. In a report in mid-May, the CDC said “Correctional and detention facilities face challenges in controlling the spread of infectious diseases because of crowded, shared environments and potential introductions by staff members and new intakes.”

In a teleconference with family members of men incarcerated at Coyote Ridge in early April, prison officials told family members they had increased sanitation efforts. At that time, six people had been tested, but no one had yet tested positive. The DOC also said it didn’t test staff; staff members were encouraged to visit their own doctors if they were concerned about being exposed. One staff member at that time had tested positive, but the DOC said “there is no identified risk.”

At the time, hand sanitizer was not available to inmates, as the DOC said soap and water was the preferred method.

The DOC also disclosed on that call that a staff member had been “confronted and contacted” for coughing on inmates and thinking it was funny. The report says “what he did was inappropriate and was corrected.”

The DOC has sent some COVID-infected inmates to a regional care facility at the Airway Heights Corrections Center. As of this writing, 18 inmates from Coyote Ridge are housed there.