Families concerned about coronavirus outbreak at federal prison near Petersburg

Published: Aug. 19, 2020 at 11:42 PM EDT
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PETERSBURG, Va. (WWBT) - At least 60 inmates and three staff members have tested positive for COVID-19 at the Federal Correctional Institute Petersburg. Family of those serving time say they haven’t been able to make any contact with them since they became sick.

NBC12 obtained an internal memo from the warden informing staff members of what’s going on at the prison. One measure the warden says they’re taking is renting mobile showers for inmates who tested positive because they remain in isolation. There are many other concerns. In total, 187 inmates were tested and 60 were positive.

“After that, they cut off all access to family members through email and phone access,” said a loved one, who asked not to be identified.

She drove nearly six hours to see about an inmate, but they wouldn’t let her in.

“They’re not updating us on nothing. They’re just basically leading us to guess and worry ourselves to death,” she added.

At the prison complex, three staff members also tested positive. Two of them work at the camp where there’s an outbreak.

“Camp inmates move all about the prison, as far as the outside perimeter and the administration building, so a lot of staff have been in close contact with inmates as well,” said Michael Castelle of the American Federation of Government Employees. Members of his union work at the prison. “They are highly upset. They are highly upset.”

What concerns Castelle thee most is back in April, the union tried to give input on how to best handle coronavirus in the prison to keep everyone safe.

“The agency flat out refused,” he said.

In a statement Wednesday, a representative said the prison does not discuss conditions of confinement but says leaders are increasing testing in hopes of slowing the spread by better identifying which inmates might be contagious without showing symptoms.

“Just give them access to a phone to let their families know they’re OK,” the loved one said.

A spokesperson says each day the federal government will update a website so you’ll know how many inmates and staffers have caught the virus. As of Wednesday night, the page was not updated to reflect the most recent cases NBC12 identified.

Nationwide, more than 100 federal inmates have died.

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