Local prison hit with COVID-19 outbreak
By Ken Childers
The number of active COVID-19 cases in Okfuskee County has more than doubled since last week, and an outbreak of the virus at an area prison is reportedly to blame.
According to the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH), there were 29 active cases as of Tuesday in Boley, which is home to the John H. Lilley Correctional Center. One week ago, there were only two active cases in Boley and sources have confirmed that the increase is due, at least in part, to an outbreak at the correctional center.
Last Wednesday, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections (ODOC) announced that visitation would be suspended at all state-run facilities, including J.H. Lilley, due to COVID-19 concerns.
“This unfortunate, albeit necessary, action quells a potential source for viral infection and spread,” officials stated in a press release. “Early in the pandemic, ODOC suspended visitation as part of a comprehensive plan to keep inmates and staff insulated from the virus.”
According to the press release, the agency initiated a scaled-back visitation model this summer when infections decreased across the state. However, ODOC recently declared numerous facilities “hot spots” for COVID-19, once again necessitating the suspension of visitation. In the meantime, free phone calls are offered in lieu of in-person visits.
“To help reduce inmates’ stress from the lack of contact with loved ones, ODOC and its inmate telephone vendor provides all inmates two free 10-minute calls each week. ODOC will resume visitation as soon as possible,” officials wrote.
State Senator Roger Thompson (R-Okemah) said he had planned to meet with ODOC Director Scott Crow on Wednesday to discuss the outbreak.
On Tuesday, the OSDH reported 52 active cases for Okfuskee County, up substantially from the 25 cases reported for the previous week. In addition to statistics for Boley, Tuesday’s report included one active case in Castle, 11 in Okemah, six in Paden and five in Weleetka. To date, five deaths in the county have been attributed to COVID-19.
The statewide numbers as of Tuesday included 13,061 active cases, 1066 deaths, 699 hospitalizations and 79,219 recoveries. Nationwide, there were 4,312,079 active cases, 210,18 deaths and 2,935,142 recoveries reported on Tuesday.
There is currently no vaccine to prevent coronavirus disease (COVID-19). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to the virus, which is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person.
The virus is also thought to be spread through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. Some recent studies have suggested that COVID-19 may be spread by people who are not showing symptoms.