MARIENVILLE, Pa. – Active COVID-19 cases among inmates at SCI Forest have increased by more than 800 in the last two weeks.
On Jan. 7 the facility had 25 active cases. As of Jan. 21, that number was up to 854 active cases, and four deaths, according to the Department of Corrections COVID dashboard.
The current outbreak began when one inmate showed COVID symptoms on Jan. 7, according to DOC Press Secretary Maria Bivens.
“On Thursday, January 7, 2021, SCI Forest had an inmate who was housed in one of the dorms develop COVID-like symptoms,” Bivens said. “They administered an antigen test and that test was positive. As a result of that active positive inmate, Forest tested all of those 178 inmates (in that dorm) using both the antigen and PCR tests and 138 of those tests came back positive.”
That testing increased the facility’s active case count to 173 on Jan. 13 with one death, according to the daily report Bivens received. The DOC dashboard showed 174 active cases and three deaths on that date. Bivens said the report she receives can be a day behind the data displayed on the dashboard.
As a result of the number of positives from the dorm testing, SCI Forest began facility-wide testing on Jan. 14.
“Their plan moving forward is to PCR/mass test the entire facility – starting Jan. 14,” Bivens said. “They are going to separate the positive cases from the negative cases, identify symptomatic inmates needing a higher level of care, protect the vulnerable inmate population, and move towards a healthy and safe operational schedule.”
Bivens said staff within the dorm were given extra PPE and following additional safety precautions. The DOC dashboard indicates there are only eight active staff cases.
“Staff assigned to the dorm are required to wear N95 respirators, goggles, and gowns if having direct inmate contact,” Bivens said. “They are not required to quarantine.”
The facility needed time to coordinate a mass testing protocol, which is why there was a delay in beginning facility-wide testing, according to Bivens.
“We needed to get the test kits on-site and it takes a couple of days to develop a plan of action and to coordinate the resources necessary to test over 2,000 people,” Bivens said.
The first results were reported Jan. 19 when the active case count rose from 169 to 827.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s COVID-19 Dashboard data update Thursday, there had been 1,245 cumulative COVID cases in Forest County. Inmate cases account for more than 70 percent of the total cases in the county.
“SCI Forest has been following all of the statewide mitigation efforts, to include placing inmates in cohorts since March of 2020, issuing masks/PPE to all staff and inmates, strict sanitizing and cleaning schedules, encouraging social-distancing, and washing of hands frequently,” Bivens said.