Washington Dept. of Health not advising prison system on COVID, despite outbreaks

airway heights corrections

OLYMPIA, Wash – Despite outbreaks at several prisons statewide, including a massive outbreak at Airway Heights Corrections Center near Spokane, the Washington Department of Health says it’s not currently advising the Department of Corrections on how to handle the problem.

Nearly 800 inmates at Airway Heights alone have contracted COVID-19 in recent weeks. Inmates and their families have told 4 News Now of awful conditions, including a packed gym and inmates’ inability to shower.

RELATED HEADLINES: Nearly 50 percent of Airway Heights Corrections Center inmates infected with COVID-19

4 News Now asked DOH about its role in the outbreak response, as it guides other state and local agencies on handling outbreaks and preventing transmission.

Friday, DOH said “The Department of Health is not providing any consultation or support to the Department of Corrections regarding isolation or quarantine as part of the Airway Heights outbreak. DOC is working its internal plans and procedures to properly handle outbreaks in various facilities.”

The Spokane Regional Health District said earlier this week it’s working with the county on outbreaks at the jail facilities, but not AHCC.

The DOH said it worked with DOC leadership to provide technical assistance on preparing for outbreaks.

As of Wednesday, DOC said it had a 13% positivity rate among inmates tested for COVID-19.

At Airway Heights, nearly half of the inmate population has tested positive. The state built  two temporary housing facilities on the prison grounds to handle the isolation and separation of inmates.

PAST COVERAGE: Airway Heights inmates deprived of showers, hot food in effort to curb COVID outbreak 

The Marshall Project has been tracking COVID outbreaks in prisons since the pandemic began, as the CDC listed prisons as potentially dangerous outbreak sites.

As of Thursday, The Marshall Project reports 2,069 inmates have tested positive for COVID in Washington. Three inmates have died.

The case rate is 1,335 positives per 10,000 inmates; that’s a rate 451 times higher than Washington overall. The rate of fatalities in prisons is half that of the general population in Washington.

You can track the number of inmates in Washington who test positive for COVID at this link.