by Mark Craddock
MODEL — The Trinidad Correctional Facility, listed as an active COVID-19 outbreak site last month, has seen case counts explode since the New Year’s holiday weekend.
Currently, 194 inmates and 13 staff members are listed as active COVID-19 cases, according to the Colorado Department of Corrections. The facility has so far seen no virus-related deaths.
On Jan. 4, the Las Animas-Huerfano Counties District Health Department reported that Las Animas County recorded 178 new positive cases of COVID-19 since its last report Dec. 30. “Many of theses cases are attributable to the Department of Corrections facility in Trinidad,” the local health department release said.
As of Monday, Las Animas County had a total case count of 700, with 232 active cases and seven deaths.
During the same timeframe, Huerfano County logged four new COVID-19 cases, bringing its total case count to 286, with 16 active cases and 18 deaths.
Meanwhile, Colfax County, New Mexico reported a case count of 541 as of Tuesday, with 23 deaths, according to New Mexico Department of Health figures.
In early November, the Trinidad Correctional Facility implemented “Phase III” protocols after three staff members and one inmate tested positive for the virus. Two of the prison’s five residential units were placed in quarantine.
On Nov. 19, 2020, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment declared the facility an active outbreak location.
CDOC Spokesperson Annie Skinner said late Monday that the facility is still on Phase III operations. She said the prison currently has 348 inmates on grounds at the facility and 167 staff members who currently work at the facility.
In spite of the outbreak, she said the facility does not have any staffing issues at this time.
“It is important to note that the vast majority of inmates who have tested positive during the course of this pandemic have either mild symptoms or no symptoms at all,” Skinner wrote in a November email. “CDOC has brought in extra medical staff as needed to our facilities, including emergency medical response professionals, to assist with monitoring inmates.
“If an inmate tests positive, they have the option for CDOC medical staff to contact their family members. Given medical privacy laws, if the inmate does not want us to contact their family with their positive test results, that is their choice.
According to CDOC documents, Phase III operations mean that inmates in quarantined and isolated areas must remain in their cells except to shower.
“The ability to use phones and video visitation may be limited given that they are shared equipment, and could potentially be a spread location,” CDOC documents say. “Outdoor recreation, phone and video visitation will be made available in quarantined units to the extent possible once medical experts believe it is safe to do so, and depending on the extent of the outbreak in the individual facilities and on staffing allowances.”
“All CDOC facilities are testing staff daily using the BinaxNow rapid test,” according to CDOC documents. “The BinaxNow is not a replacement of regular PCR testing, which the department will continue to do weekly. It is simply a day-of tool that can assist with screening staff.
“Inmates are being tested regularly using PCR testing, and those results allow CDOC to properly cohort, quarantine and monitor inmates.”
The CDOC said inmates that test positive are monitored by medical staff and transported to medical facilities if additional treatment is necessary. Symptomatic inmates are checked at least twice a day for 14 days, and if asymptomatic, at least daily.
“Inmates have been quarantined based on whether or not they have tested positive, and/or have potentially been exposed,” the CDOC wrote. “The inmates may remain in that quarantined status while the appropriate testing protocols are conducted. This helps to reduce the potential spread of the virus.”
CDOC COVID-19 protocol
According to information on CDOC’s website, staff working within the prison facilities or who are parole officers are required to wear face coverings in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance.
“CDOC is providing KN95 masks to all staff members,” the website reads. “Inmates are also being provided masks, and are required to wear the masks. The CDOC is laundering the inmate masks regularly and has a stock of masks available to replace them when they wear out. Inmates can speak with a staff member about getting a replacement mask if it is needed.”
CDOC said additional personal protective equipment is provided to both staff and inmates as needed. And staff and inmates will be offered the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine when it is available.
“Inmate status will not make a difference in terms of timing of receipt of the vaccine. Someone who falls into a category for early priority of the vaccine and is in CDOC custody will receive the vaccine at the same time as someone in the same category who is outside CDOC.”
Skinner wrote that the CDOC has “taken numerous steps to prevent and mitigate the spread” of COVID-19, including:
• Conducting large-scale targeted testing programs in coordination with the CDPHE.
• Sheltering inmates in place at their facility and limiting any unnecessary transport of inmates between facilities. Implementing a temporary moratorium on intakes from county jails in order to prevent the introduction of the virus into the facilities.
• Providing all inmates and staff with masks and replacing those masks as needed, as well as requiring staff and inmates to wear those face coverings in the common area of the facilities.
• Suspending in-person visits in order to prevent the potential introduction of the virus.
• Implementing staff screening protocols in addition to the robust testing program, and taking the temperatures of staff members when they come into facilities.
• Increasing “the already robust” cleaning protocols and providing additional cleaning supplies to the inmate population.
• Developing facility-specific grouping systems which allows facilities to cohort living units so that the people who live in the same unit stay together, in order to prevent any potential cross contamination or exposure between inmates in different living units.
According to the Department of Corrections’ COVID-19 dashboard, the Trinidad Correctional Facility is one of 14 prisons statewide that are operating under “Phase 3” restrictions, a level reserved for “facilities that are experiencing an active COVID-19 outbreak.”
As of Jan 5, across the CBOC system, 200 staff members are on leave because of possible COVID-19 exposure or symptoms; 1,316 staff members have tested positive for the virus and, of those, 105 cases are still active.