COVID-19 outbreak in Bethel jail winds down after running out of people to infect

A long white square building with an American and Alaska flag in front
The Bethel jail. (Aleina Tanabe/KYUK)

The COVID-19 outbreak at the Yukon Kuskokwim Correctional Center is winding down, with 13 active cases down from 75 on Dec. 16.

The decline is likely because the virus has run out of people to infect.

Alaska Department of Corrections Spokesperson Sarah Gallagher said 189 people incarcerated in the Bethel facility tested positive since the pandemic began. On Dec. 21, Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation Chief of Staff Dr. Ellen Hodges said over 80% of people incarcerated at YKCC had tested positive for COVID-19. The jail can hold 232 people.

The correctional center has been isolating people who test positive by housing them in the facility’s gym. Gallagher said people are moved back to their original dorms once they are no longer considered active cases.

Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, the gym had been equipped with beds. Gallagher said it had already been converted to a 60-bed housing unit due to the increasing number of people serving time behind bars. There are currently 56 individuals housed in the gym.

Since the pandemic began, two inmates have been hospitalized for COVID-19. Gallagher said some patients were able to receive a monoclonal antibody treatment from YKHC, but most of the jail’s cases were treated with fluids, over-the-counter medication, and rest. YKCC has seen no deaths due to COVID-19.

Twenty-four of the facility’s staff members have tested positive for the virus. Three are considered active cases.

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