Outbreak of prison cases, community spread fuel Fayette Covid-19 spike

Steve Keenan/The Fayette TribuneThe Fayette County Health Department and the Fayette County Covid-19 Task Force held a recent drive-through Covid-19 testing session at the J.W. and Hazel Ruby West Virginia Welcome Center in Mount Hope. National Guard Pvt. 2nd Class Richard Perkins was among those assisting with the testing event in Mount Hope. 

An outbreak at Mount Olive Correctional Complex and Jail has helped fuel a recent spike of positive Covid-19 cases in Fayette County.

As of 3 p.m. on Aug. 28, the West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation reported 32 active Covid-19 cases involving inmates at Mount Olive, with 1,275 negative results and 853 tests pending. One had recovered, and 16 were in quarantine.

Since Tuesday, Fayette's number of positive cases revealed by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources has risen from 188 to 235, with an increase of 10 on Friday.

As of Friday afternoon, Dr. Anita Stewart, Fayette County health officer, reported the county had 236 confirmed cases, one probable case, nine deaths, 13 hospitalized and 162 recovered. That included 32 MOCC inmates and several staff members.

On Friday, West Virginia reported its first death linked to Covid-19 of an inmate ordered to a W.Va. Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation facility since the state confirmed its first case on March 17. According to a press release from the Office of the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, an inmate from South Central Regional Jail died early Friday while at an outside hospital. The preliminary assessment from health officials attributed the cause to complications from Covid-19.

The 40-year-old Wood County man was being held on federal charges, the release noted. He had underlying medical conditions and tested positive for Covid-19 within the past week while at the hospital.

Lawrence Messina, who oversees communications for the W.Va. Department of Homeland Security (formerly Military Affairs and Public Safety), said there are active cases among 13 Mount Olive staff and 10 recovered cases, with 145 tests with results pending.

Any positive DCR employee self-quarantines at home and not at a facility, Messina said.

Enhanced testing at the complex was originally performed on June 11, and a second round of enhanced testing extended facility-wide this week, Messina said. Testing of employees was completed Wednesday, and inmate testing ended Friday morning.

Mount Olive and its satellite work camp have a combined population of 1,019. Both the main prison and the work camp are under capacity, Messina said in an email. "MOCC has the space it needs to ensure inmates are medically isolated and quarantined as necessary," he said.

There have been no deaths at Mount Olive attributed to Covid-19.

Mount Olive and the other facilities continue to follow DCR's response plan for Covid-19, which is detailed on the Correctional Facilities page at West Virginia’s main website for its Covid-19 response, coronavirus.wv.gov. That includes ensuring adequate personal protective equipment for DCR employees.

In the metrics map utilized by state and local education and health officials to determine the status of safely opening schools and conducting extracurricular activities, inmate case numbers are reflected as one total case. The 32 MOCC inmates who have tested positive so far are reflected individually in the overall county case count, according to Stewart.

Fayette County's recent case uptick is not solely because of the activity within the walls of the state's maximum security prison for men at Mount Olive, Stewart pointed out. "In the last two to three days, there's been a major upswing of community transmission," she said. "Most are community transmission not related to large groups, not related to travel ... It's people that are really trying to do the right thing, wearing masks, washing hands, staying home, that contract Covid.

"It's been very perplexing and concerning; we really have to hunker down and do the behavioral measures — all of us — to stop this."

Stewart said there have been no active outbreaks in school-related extracurricular activities or in overall school operations at this point.

"We're under high scrutiny from the state right now because of our numbers jump, and we're working with the state to enhance mitigation strategies," Stewart said. Weekly Covid-19 testing continues on Tuesdays at the J.W. and Hazel Ruby West Virginia Welcome Center in Mount Hope and on Wednesdays with the New River Health Association at the former Kmart in Oak Hill.

Appointed testing with guidance from the state may occur elsewhere in the county next week, she added.

"Right now the only thing we have to combat this virus are behavioral measures — good hand washing, maintaining 6 feet, limiting large groups, outside is better than inside, stay home if you're sick," Stewart said. "It's up to each of us to make those behavioral changes to make a difference in our community."

Continue to be vigilant, she urges. "I know how fast this situation can get out of control," said Stewart. Referencing Gov. Jim Justice's statements of state and county officials "running to the fire" to deal with Covid-19 outbreaks, Stewart said, "I think we've been smoldering, and we've had a little pickup in the winds and our flames are getting a little higher, so we're working to extinguish that and hoping our community is still on board to partner with us (in stopping the spread)."

Email: skeenan@register-herald.com or follow on Twitter @gb_scribe

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