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New widespread testing for inmates yields positive COVID-19 case at Fairbanks jail

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A newly arrived inmate at the Fairbanks Correctional Center tested positive for COVID-19, the Alaska Department of Corrections said Wednesday.

The inmate, who was not identified, is the third inmate with a confirmed coronavirus case within an Alaska correctional facility, according to the department. The person who tested positive was quarantined when the result came back, said spokeswoman Sarah Gallagher.

“DOC anticipates exposure to be limited,” she said.

The inmate was tested as part of a new effort to screen every inmate entering Alaska’s jails and prison system for the virus as cases spike in the state. Starting on July 1, all people remanded to jails anywhere in Alaska have been tested and then placed in a 14-day quarantine within the facility. About 600 people are remanded to serve jail time each week.

Inmates who go to outside medical appointments, transfer between facilities, move to the Alaska Psychiatric Institute or otherwise leave the facility where they are incarcerated are also being tested, Gallagher said.

It took time to ensure that enough tests would be available and labs would have the ability to process them, Gallagher said. The department says it has administered 1,268 tests. About 300 are currently pending, she said.

So far, Alaska has managed to avoid the widespread COVID-19 prison outbreaks seen in many other states. But some family members of people incarcerated in Alaska are skeptical about what the DOC is telling them.

“We have a little problem with the numbers,” said Angela Hall, whose husband is incarcerated and who runs a support group for families of prisoners called Supporting Our Loved Ones Group. “We really find it hard to believe there are just these three positives. But all we can go on is what information they provide us.”

Hall said families and inmates have been asking for more testing, especially among new remands and transferring inmates, since the beginning of the pandemic.

“The fact they are just starting that now is shocking,” she said. “We are, of course, glad they are doing it.”

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