Idaho prisons continue to combat COVID infections among staff, residents

By Ruth Brown, Idaho Reports

The Idaho Department of Correction houses more than 8,000 people in custody and the latest updates show coronavirus infection numbers are again increasing. 

In a COVID update posted Thursday, IDOC deputy director Bree Derrick wrote about how the Delta variant has changed the game.

“First and foremost, please remain vigilant about conducting medical screenings and staying home …,” she wrote. “We’ve had a few cases recently where folks tried to push through the symptoms and keep working, and ultimately, that caused more people to have to go out on quarantine.” 

She encouraged staff to use caution, stay home if they are ill and consider vaccination.

Because most IDOC staff are state employees, vaccinations have not been made mandatory. Disclosure of vaccination status is entirely voluntary.  

On Sept. 14, IDOC reported that 42% of the staff who work in IDOC prisons have voluntarily reported that they have received the vaccine for COVID-19.

In the last two weeks, 60 people in IDOC custody have tested positive for COVID-19, deeming them “active” cases. Those 60 people are spread across 10 prisons or reentry centers in Idaho. 

As of Thursday, IDOC’s case tracker reported 277 positive COVID-19 cases in the resident population, with 243 of those being asymptomatic. But, spokesman Jeff Ray said some of those, especially the asymptomatic cases, have already been cleared after a two-week quarantine, but the data hasn’t been updated yet due to caseload. 

Since the pandemic began, six people in IDOC custody have died of complications from the virus and more than 4,600 people in custody have tested positive at some point, according to IDOC’s tracker. 

Last week, on Sept. 24, IDOC Director Josh Tewalt urged staff to be cautious, reporting that his father had died of COVID-19-related causes. 

“My wife, two kids, mom, dad and I all tested positive over the last several weeks,” Tewalt wrote. “On September 15th, my dad lost his battle with COVID and passed away. My dad wasn’t vaccinated. Like a lot of people, my dad had some questions about the vaccine, but his decision not to get vaccinated wasn’t a political statement. He had an appointment to get vaccinated in June, but work got in the way and he had to postpone it. And then, like a lot of other people, he saw COVID numbers significantly decline, thought the worst was behind us, and didn’t see a sense of urgency to reschedule.” 

Tewalt’s letter urged that he did not intend to politicize or instil fear, but hoped there was something others could gain from his experience. Six people in his immediate family contracted the virus, three were vaccinated, and one adult and two kids were not, he wrote.

“My dad was admitted to the hospital on September 8th with COVID pneumonia. Like a lot of patients requiring care, he spent hours in the emergency room before a bed opened up,” Tewalt wrote. “What happened over the ensuing week was heart wrenching. COVID took my dad from us piece by piece, starting with his lungs and eventually leading to clotting, strokes, and the cumulative effects on his mind and body. Ultimately, it was a war being fought on too many fronts and it became unwinnable.”

Vaccinations have been offered to all people in IDOC custody. For more information on coronavirus in Idaho and where vaccines are available, visit coronavirus.idaho.gov.

IDOC facilityPositive Tests (last 2 weeks)
Correctional Alternative Placement Program0
East Boise CRC0
Idaho Correctional Institution Orofino0
Idaho Falls CRC1
Idaho Maximum Security Institution1
Idaho State Correctional Center4
Idaho State Correctional Institution6
Nampa CRC0
North Idaho Correctional Institution4
Pocatello Women’s Correctional Center14
South Boise Women’s Correctional Center10
South Idaho Correctional Institution1
St. Anthony Work Center1
Treasure Valley CRC0
Twin Falls CRC18
This data was provided to Idaho Reports on Oct. 1, 2021, by the Idaho Department of Correction. It captures the number positive tests found at IDOC facilities in the previous two weeks. (Courtesy of IDOC)

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