Alaska News

Juneau correctional center employee tests positive for COVID-19

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A staff member at Juneau’s Lemon Creek Correctional Center tested positive for COVID-19, the Alaska Department of Corrections said in a statement Thursday night.

It marks the first confirmed novel coronavirus case among Department of Corrections workers.

“DOC has been preparing for this moment, and we have plans in place to effectively manage this situation,” Alaska corrections commissioner Nancy Dahlstrom said in the statement. “We continue to follow CDC guidelines in order to prevent the spread of the virus within our institutions.”

Once Lemon Creek officials were notified of the positive test result, the correctional center “immediately implemented the DOC Response Plan and took swift action to protect the health and welfare of inmates and staff at the facility," the department said.

There are 219 inmates at Lemon Creek and 85 staffers working four different shifts, city and borough of Juneau officials said Friday. The corrections department told them two inmates have been tested for COVID-19; one test came back negative and one is pending. All inmates and staff have been issued cloth face coverings.

“The source of the virus is pending investigation,” Juneau officials said Friday. The corrections department said it was working with the Alaska Section of Epidemiology “to facilitate the contact investigation.”

A total of 17 inmates within the Department of Corrections system have been tested for COVID-19, Alaska Department of Health and Social Services commissioner Adam Crum said Friday. Of those tests, 11 have come back negative while six were still pending on Friday, according to Crum.

To prevent the spread of the new coronavirus among a confined population, the corrections department in mid-March stopped allowing visitors into Alaska’s prisons and jails. A few days later, the department barred “all non-essential activity” from prisons, including volunteer programs.

Two recent court orders that address the COVID-19 pandemic are aimed at reducing the number of people in Alaska’s jails and prisons, where staying the recommended 6 feet from other people is difficult, if not impossible.

Under a temporary bail schedule enacted by court order in late March, anyone charged with a misdemeanor — with the exception of domestic violence or stalking — shall be released on their own recognizance. And an Alaska Court of Appeals order from late March says that defendants “are entitled to hearings at which an individualized assessment of their bail release proposals, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, can occur."

On Thursday evening, Gov. Mike Dunleavy described his concern about these changes, saying it was a decision made by the courts but he was watching the developments closely.

“We have to make sure that we’re balancing public health with public safety,” Dunleavy said.

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