Several prisons in Alaska are grappling with large COVID-19 outbreaks, as the number of hospitalized inmates continues to climb.
At Goose Creek Correctional Center outside of Wasilla, nearly 800 inmates have tested positive for COVID out of an inmate population of about 1,300. That’s 100 new cases since the last report on Tuesday. Almost three-quarters of those cases — 581 — are considered active. Two Goose Creek prisoners have died of COVID-19, and seven are currently hospitalized.
The Dept. of Corrections said without enough free space to house all COVID-positive inmates in separate cells, it is trying to group positive-testing inmates together. In a Tuesday press release, the department said it was sorting inmates by symptoms. Six of Goose Creek’s 10 housing units, or mods, are under lockdown with active cases.
Sarah Gallagher, a spokesperson for DOC, said in a Wednesday interview that the department has so far been able to keep inmates separated based on COVID status, but it’s a moving target as more tests are conducted.
“The COVID situation at Goose Creek is constantly changing,” she said. “So, you know, while we have new people going on to isolation, we also have many who are coming off. At this point, the staff at Goose Creek have been able to successfully identify housing for offenders.”
Gallagher says three inmates refused to be tested.
Two other Alaska prisons, the Anchorage Correctional Complex and the Yukon-Kuskokwim Correctional Center, have also reported dozens of cases recently. Anchorage Correctional currently has 67 active cases, while Yukon-Kuskokwim Correctional has 46.
Anchorage Correctional, which houses a large number of pre-trial inmates, has been running above capacity in recent weeks as jury trials have been suspended due to COVID-19 risk. The facility has an official capacity of 863, but currently has 958 inmates, said Gallagher. It is difficult to maintain social distancing under the circumstances, she said.
“It’s always challenging in a congregate setting, I think, to social distance. We’re all aware of that. And we do the best we can. Some facilities are impacted more than others when it comes to their population.”
The population at Anchorage Correctional in particular can vary widely with new pre-trial admissions.
DOC said it will continue testing about twice a week at facilities with COVID-19 cases, until there are no cases for two weeks.