A COVID-19 outbreak at Lancaster County prison has led to at least two dozen new cases since Aug. 7 among inmates and staff, county officials confirmed.
Seventeen inmates have tested positive since Aug. 10, with the outbreak centering on inmates working in the prison’s kitchen, Warden Cheryl Steberger said.
Additionally, seven staff members have tested positive since Aug. 7.
Ninety-nine tests are still outstanding and Steberger said she is anticipating more positives.
“This kicked off last week with a high temp from an inmate in C-Main,” Steberger said.
Total cases at the prison among inmates only since the pandemic began now stands at 44, representing a more than 50% increase from the last time the public was given an updated figure in June.
Steberger said cell blocks are being used to quarantine COVID-19 positive inmates from others and that time out of cells is being staggered and limited to avoid spreading the virus. However, family members of inmates are concerned with the quarantine conditions.
Kelli Smith, the mother of an inmate who tested positive, said her son has remained in his cell most of the day and only has access to the water that comes from the hand washing station in the cell, which her son told her is “so disgusting that you can't even drink it.
She asked that her son’s name not be used due to fear of retribution.
“My son told me it felt like being in a locked car in there,” Smith said. “He said it’s so hot in there you can’t breathe.” There is no air conditioning in the prison.
Smith said her son asked her to contact inmates who had been housed with him to inform them of their potential exposure.
Richard Little, who was released Aug. 10, said he had not been contacted by the prison or anyone to inform him of the outbreak until Smith called him.
The 65-year-old said that prior to his release it was apparent that some sickness was spreading among the kitchen crew.
Little said that a guard who is among those overseeing the kitchen crew was showing obvious signs of illness as recently as Aug. 7.
Steberger would not comment on the specifics of any staff member’s test, but did say staff had tested positive since Aug. 7. She said staff are advised to stay home if they are ill. She said that the area underwent a commercial cleaning but that no kitchen crew procedures were changed.
On Wednesday, Little said he called the prison to ask if he could be tested for COVID-19 and find out what he should do, and was told that since he had been released the prison could not provide him with a test. He said the employee he spoke with did not give him any information about how he could be tested.
“If that (Little’s call) did happen, the staff should have taken their info and passed it along to (the prison’s healthcare provider),” Steberger said.
Little also said that mask and glove wearing was not always being followed by inmates making up the kitchen crew.
“Mask wearing is always going to be a problem,” Steberger said. “The inmates, we do struggle with getting them to wear masks. Asking them to wear a mask in this heat in this building is hard.”