Lemon Creek Correctional Center begins another round of COVID-19 testing

Prisoners at Lemon Creek Correctional Center in Juneau attend a formline design class in 2015. (Scott Burton/KTOO)

Juneau’s Lemon Creek Correctional Center is preparing for another round of testing for COVID-19.

Eleven staff members have tested positive at the facility since April. The most recent case was discovered after the state Department of Corrections tested 73 staff and 168 inmates two weeks ago. The department will now complete another phase upon recommendation from the Department of Public Health.

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Chief Medical Officer for Corrections Dr. Robert Lawrence said this will actually be the facility’s third round of testing since the outbreak began.

“Each time, you know, we expect to find fewer and fewer cases, but we keep going through those rounds until there are no cases within the group of people that we are testing,” Dr. Lawrence said.

When the first cases were discovered in April, officials tested close contacts of the infected staff members. After more cases turned up earlier this month, they decided to test everyone in the facility. An additional staff member came back positive.

Lawrence said the outbreak will be considered contained once the facility goes 28 days, or two viral incubation periods, without any new cases.

That doesn’t mean they will test everyone continuously for a month. Instead, they’ll continue monitoring infected individuals in isolation and any of their close contacts in quarantine.

“The testing is really just a quick spot check in time that tells us what’s going on on that day,” Dr. Lawrence said. “But we don’t let our guard down, you know, when it comes to the remainder of that time period.”

Department officials confirmed last week that a majority of Juneau’s 31 cases of COVID-19 have been linked to the correctional center. In addition to the 11 staff members who tested positive, five household members have also contracted the disease.

No inmates have tested positive at the Juneau facility. According to Corrections spokesperson Sarah Gallagher, 44 of the roughly 200 inmates there declined testing. When asked why inmates may have opted out of testing, Lawrence said they have the right to decline medical tests and treatment for whatever reason.

Lawrence also said inmates are not charged for tests, which are sent to a state lab. It takes between one and two days for results to come back.