Angst grows for prison workers

LISBON — All employees at the federal prison in Elkton have been told by the Columbiana County Health Department to follow the self-quarantine protocols when not at work because of their likely exposure to the COVID-19 virus.

In a letter dated March 31, Health Commissioner Wes Vins stated since some people at the prison have tested positive, personnel are “considered contacts of known positive COVID-19 cases and therefore must maintain self-quarantine when not at the facility.”

Quarantine protocol is to be followed at home, and travel and visitation is prohibited except to and from work. This remains in place until the 14-day quarantine period ends and the employee comes out of it symptom free.

The letter comes at a time when the COVID-19 situation at the federal prison appears to be worsening.

Joseph Mayle, president of the local union representing 280 of the 320 prison employees, said two inmates who tested positive were hospitalized. Two inmates have also died, but test results for one were pending at the time of his death.

The second inmate death was announced Friday. The deceased is Margarito Garcia-Fragoso, 65, who suffered from long-term pre-existing medical conditions. Garcia-Fragoso began having problems on March 27 and was transported to a local hospital, where he tested positive and had to be placed on a ventilator. He was 38 months into a 126-month sentence on drug trafficking offenses.

Mayle said 80 of the 2,457 inmates at the low-security facility are in isolation after showing symptoms of COVID-19 and 16 new arrivals were placed in quarantine for 14 days as a precaution.

Meanwhile, he said two prison employees have tested positive for COVID-19. The Bureau of Prisons is listing only one employee at testing positive on its website.

Mayle said more workers and inmates have likely been exposed but they only had five tests to start with, and promised shipments of additional tests have yet to arrive. He is worried they also could run out of N-95 masks in the next several weeks.

Mayle said corrections officers and other staff are working under very stressful conditions.

“Yes, there is anxiety. Yes, there is angst. This is serious,” he said.

Mayle is also upset about the federal Bureau of Prison policy requiring workers use up their sick and personal days should they test positive, instead of giving them paid emergency medical leave given the extraordinary circumstances.

“We know the hazards of this duty … and we have utmost respect for (the people we serve) but we want to protect our families too,” he said,.

Mayle praised Warden Mark Williams and his staff, saying they are not to blame for the shortages. “The warden and administrators have been working alongside us. I think they’re doing everything they can with what they have been given,” he said.

An email message seeking comment was left with the prison’s public information officer. The PIO did not have much to say about the health commissioner’s letter and referred the news media to the prison bureau’s website for further information.



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