No Virginia inmates tested for COVID-19, officials say

'Department of Corrections has now provided two free phone calls per week for our inmate population.'
Posted at 6:22 PM, Mar 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-23 09:19:31-04

RICHMOND, Va. – Officials said no inmates have been tested for COVID-19 at any of Virginia's correctional centers despite online rumors that some inmates have tested positive.

"The question is information that is out on social media in particular that inmates have tested positive at any of our correctional facilities in the Commonwealth," Virginia Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran said during a news briefing on the coronavirus pandemic Sunday morning. "The short answer to that is no. As of this moment, there are no positive tests in our correctional facilities."

Moran said that the state does not yet have data on Virginia's more than 60 regional and local jails as well as the independent sheriffs who run them.

"To date, I'm not aware of any who have actually been tested for the COVID," Moran said. "Some have been presented for testing, and frankly, haven't met the guidelines instituted and followed by Department of Health."

However, Moran said an employee of another correctional, public safety agency was tested and the results were negative.

"And that was great news for the Department of Juvenile Justice," Moran said. "But to date, there have been [no inmates] tested."

Moran stressed the state was being "as transparent as possible."

"And as we have stated before, Department of Corrections has taken extraordinary measures to prevent the interaction that the governor speaks of, to stop that social interaction," Moran said. "We have suspended visitation. We have restricted, actually suspended, transfers from local jails to our prisons. And I should mention Department of Corrections has now provided two free phone calls per week for our inmate population, so they continue that very vital interaction with their family and community."

Moran said the agency would do its "best to continue to dispel the misinformation that exists."

Additionally, Moran said officials have heard from several judges and prosecutors who believe inmates would be safer from COVID-19 if they remained in jail sine there are no cases of the virus in the state's prison system to date.

That said, Moran said an alternative for low-level offenders could be electronic home monitoring to limit interaction between other inmates and correctional staffers.

COVID-19 cases in Virginia top 219; most new results from private labs

Virginia health officials said most of the 67 new positive COVID-19 cases in the Commonwealth announced Sunday were from testing done at private labs.

Dr. Lilian Peake, a epidemiologist at the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), said 219 people have tested positive for COVID-19 and 32 people remain hospitalized with the illness. Six people have died of COVID-19-linked illnesses in the state.

"That brings us to a total of... 95 in the Northern Region, 70 in the Eastern Region, 28 in the Central Region, 20 in the northwest and six in the southwest," Peake said.

Officials said 3,337 people have been tested, which is an increase of 547 since Saturday's update.

"Most of the new cases were reported today from tests done at private labs," Peake said. "So it is heartening to see that we are having more increase in testing in the Commonwealth."

Officials said the state lab capacity continues to be at about 1,000 tests.

"And we're looking at how we can stretch that capacity and use those tests wisely until we have more available," Peake noted.

Virginia Department of Health Deputy Commissioner of Population Health Laurie Forlano said Saturday that Virginia has revised its COVID-19 testing requirements.

"We're prioritizing healthcare workers and those responders who have had contact or cared for COVID-19 patients," Forlano said. "We want to make sure that they are protected, so we can ensure the continuity of care."

There is also a "priority" for healthcare facility outbreaks, Forlano said.

Additionally, Forlano said the state is focused on testing "clusters of respiratory illness" where the flu has been ruled as a cause of sickness.

Officials are investigating "distinct clusters" where there is "local transmission" of the virus in Virginia.

Those clusters include 32 cases in James City County, 31 in Fairfax County, 26 in Arlington County, 18 in Prince William County, 17 in Virginia Beach and 15 in Loudon County.

"We do not have a medicine for COVID-19. We do not have a vaccine for COVID-19," Virginia Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver said Friday "The only thing we have to prevent the spread of this disease is social distancing., so we need to all do that."

Northam: 'We're in this for the long haul -- months'

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said the Commonwealth continues to see a sharp uptick in cases of COVID-19 because of increased testing capabilities.

"But we're also seeing it because this virus continues to spread," Northam said during a news conference Sunday. "We talked about flattening the curve, but make no mistake, we are still in the early stages of that curve rising. How high and how how quickly those numbers rise is up to you and me and every single Virginian."

Northam also said the COVID-19 outbreak will be "with us for a long time. "

"Months, not weeks," the governor said. "We need to begin adjusting to that reality."

Northam urged Virginians to do what they can to slow the spread of the virus.

"Every one of us has a job to do to fight this virus," Northam said. "That is why it is so critical that everyone stay home as much as possible. Do not go into crowds, cramped, do not have gatherings. I know that most Virginians are hearing this message and I thank you all for doing your part. But I also know that some people are not listening -- and I want you to know, you are putting every single one of us in Virginia at risk." 

Northam said protecting the vulnerable is the responsibility of everyone.

"It is up to all of us to act responsibly and avoid crowds. We will win this fight together," Northam said. "We're in this for the long haul. Months. That's one thing to be clear of... We're all in this together and we're going to get through this, but it's gonna take some time."

Most patients with COVID-19 have mild to moderate symptoms. However, in a small proportion of patients, COVID-19 can lead to more severe illness, including death, particularly among those who are older or those who have chronic medical conditions.

COVID-19 spreads primarily through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

Symptoms include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. Symptoms appear within 14 days of being exposed to an infectious person.

Virginia health officials urged the following precautions:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer only if soap and water are not available.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Avoid contact with sick people.
  • Avoid non-essential travel.

Depend on CBS 6 News and for the most complete coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic.