Goose Creek Correctional Center
According to local news outlets, we've come to learn that the COVID-19 outbreak at Goose Creek Correctional Center has grown to 204 inmates infected with the highly contagious virus.
Department of Corrections spokeswoman Sarah Gallagher has said that inmates that test positive for COVID-19 or those who are showing symptoms are isolated and monitored twice daily by medical staff, but at least one online account says that's not the case.
Rick Allen, an assistant public defender in Palmer, said on Twitter Wednesday, "I spoke to four clients at Goose today. One of them is very sick with covid. He said his 55 year old celly (cellmate) has been too sick to get out of bed for three days. It is a truly terrifying situation. All four of these guys are being held pretrial because they can't afford bail."
Megan Edge, the Communications Director of ACLU Alaska, said on Twitter that, "A prisoner at Goose Creek told me today there are still staff walking around without a mask. Yes, I know this contradicts statements to the press from DOC. I am listening to humans living inside our jails and prisons living this nightmare in a jail cell."
Edge also sent a tweet to Alaska's Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Anne Zink, asking her, "@annezinkmd What role does the state health department play in the healthcare decisions being made for the 4,000+ people incarcerated in our prisons? What recommendations do you have for mitigating the spread of#COVID19 in our jails and prisons?"
The tweet, sent by Ms. Edge and directed to Dr. Zink, was sent at 4:01pm and remains unanswered over ten hours later.
Anchorage Correctional Complex
A new COVID-19 outbreak within the Department of Corrections, was also reported at the Anchorage Correctional Complex, where there are at least 18 confirmed infections.
Earlier this evening I received a message from an employee of the Anchorage Correctional Complex. They reached out after seeing social media posts about the unfolding situation at Goose Creek. Concerned about reprisals, they did not wish to be named. Here's a little of what they had to share.
ACC Employee: "I know we've had consistent concerns with Correctional Officers being non-compliant with wearing masks. The superintendent can't be everywhere. They keep trying to enforce it, but these asshats don't keep them on. Part of our job is to protect a vulnerable population, and jail staff are bringing in Covid to the jail plain and simple in my opinion."
Has the superintendent made an effort to combat non-mask compliance?
ACC Employee: "Let's just say there's been at least 2 Department of Correction emails in the last 2 weeks about serious consequences if staff don't start wearing masks and inmates are only given cloth masks. Staff are given surgical masks, but for instance I had to use the same one for a week. They JUST mandated last week that mental health and medical also wear goggles because they get so close to the inmates."
You've been using the same mask for a week? Is it an N95 mask?
ACC Employee: “HAHAHA. No. It's a regular surgical mask. N95s are only for when we're with positive patients. I shouldn't be telling you this but I don't want to die and now I'm scared inmates are going to start dying. I've been working in jails for over a decade. The situation here really sucks and so many of our patients are vulnerable. Many of the inmates are mentally ill and unsentenced. Inmates get cloth masks.”
I've written a lot about teachers and their struggles with the school district. Have you reached out to your union about your concerns?
ACC Employee: “My union rep is waiting for me to allow her to take it further but haven't yet for fear of repercussions. As a whole, our DOC has done waaaaay better than most in the lower 48 but that doesn't mean it can't be better. For example, they won't let certain staff work from home even though some jobs consist of over half paperwork. If they would we would have less staff in the buildings...that stuff has been taken to the union over and over and we keep losing.”
We talked about some other things that they didn't necessarily want made public at this time, but the employee did tell me that they respect the superintendent of ACC and believe that they are doing their best in the face of Correctional Officers who are largely working in the facility unmasked saying, "The new ACC superintendent is a good egg. For real."
For now, it appears the Department of Corrections is facing an unprecedented challenge in keeping employees masked, which may be the reason why the number of COVID-19 infections has spiked in the past two weeks within their facilities.
As COVID-19 cases continue to skyrocket, contact tracers are overwhelmed and as Alaska DHSS is unable to keep pace with the increasing number of new cases being seen across the state, inmates and their families can only hope that Department of Correction employees will mask up and give up plans for holiday gatherings this year.
Lives are literally at stake.