4 COVID deaths in 4 days at Oregon’s Snake River prison

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Thirteen deaths linked to the novel coronavirus have now been reported among the 14,000 prisoners living in state correctional institutions

PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — Thirteen inmates who were sickened and tested positive for COVID-19 have now died, the Oregon Department of Corrections reports.

The four most recent deaths were announced in a grim progression — one per day — in press releases sent out by the DOC between Oct. 3 and Oct. 6. Going back further, there have been seven coronavirus-linked deaths in 15 days — each case linked to Snake River.

Since Sept. 7 — just one month ago — there have been eight deaths linked to the novel coronavirus, each taking the life of an adult in custody at Snake River.

When asked whether law enforcement leaders are taking special precautions due to the deadly pattern, a spokeswoman replied: “We have a prepared statement. Nothing further at this time.”

The statement admits an “outbreak” of coronavirus has been detected at Snake River, the largest state prison in Oregon with over 2,300 medium-security cells and 600 other beds. Officials say all those diagnosed with the disease are treated at local hospitals or the on-site infirmary, which can offer round-the-clock services such as oxygen — intravenous fluids and antibiotics — and access to consultants regarding infectious disease and surgery.

A protocol is in place to hospitalize those with difficulty breathing or requiring a higher level of care.

“Oregon Department of Corrections takes the COVID-19 crisis very seriously and has established a multitude of precautions to decrease its spread,” according to the statement. “We regret any loss of life and convey our condolences to the families of those affected.”

Officials say the latest casualty was a man between 70 and 80 years old, who died Oct. 6 in a local hospital near the Snake River Correctional Institution in Ontario where he was incarcerated.

• The 12th death on Oct. 5 involved a man between 65 and 75 years of age, also residing at Snake River.

• The 11th death — a 60 to 70 year-old man at Snake River — died Oct. 4.

• The 10th death — a man between 75 and 85 years old at Snake River — was said to have died “in October” in a statement sent out Oct. 3.

“The adult in custody tested positive before his passing,” said Betty Bernt, spokeswoman for the DOC, regarding the 10th fatality.

The Medical Examiner has not yet determined the official cause of death in all such cases. Oregon State Police is also notified after all deaths.

COVID-related deaths were also announced at Snake River on Sept. 27, Sept. 25 and on Sept. 21.

Including a previous death in mid-Augst, there have been nine COVID-related deaths at Snake River. Another three deaths have been reported at the Eastern Oregon prison, and one at the Oregon State Penitentiary.

The DOC previously released the identity of all those who died in custody — but not the cause of death. Administrators say they cannot release any identifying information if they disclose health information, due to federal privacy laws.

Officials say all employees and adults in custody are required to wear masks if they cannot maintain social distancing. Cleaning and disinfecting regimens have also been stepped up, and all staff undergo a health screening before entering the work environment each day.

“This screening includes a temperature check and a screening questionnaire,” according to a news release. “Visiting remains closed until further notice.”

There are more than 14,000 inmates living in Oregon’s prison system. So far, 1,093 have tested positive for COVID and 899 have recovered. Among employees, there have been 270 coronavirus diagnoses and 244 confirmed recoveries.

The Portland Tribune is a KOIN 6 News media partner

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