By Barry Dalton
Only the state prison in Fulton has had more COVID-19 cases among prisoners in Missouri than the 555 cases registered at the Women’s Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center in Vandalia. This according to the case tracker on the Missouri Department of Corrections website; however cases have since fallen significantly to nearly zero.
“There are two active staff cases and six active offender cases in Vandalia,” said Communications Director Karen Pojmann in response to the Vandalia Leader. “The website hasn’t yet been updated today. Currently, COVID-19 is present in about 0.4% of the offender population statewide. Meanwhile, the positivity rate for the state of Missouri as a whole is 8%.”
While nearly all state’s facilities currently have 0-4 active offender cases of COVID-19, Pojmann added, the WERDCC in Vandalia is an exception. But there is a good reason, she says, that those numbers have been higher.
It’s because WERDCC, like the facilities in Fulton, Bonne Terre, and St. Joseph, are reception centers.
“Those are the places where people first enter the prison system from city and county jails, Pojmann explained. “City and county jails continue to send COVID-positive offenders to the Missouri Department of Corrections, and the department is required to accept them. Those offenders are quarantined and tested on intake and are then relocated to an isolation unit if they test positive for the virus.”
The department is currently working on getting about 17,000 people vaccinated. Corrections staff (about 9,000 people) are eligible for the vaccine in Tier 1, and many already have received their first dose.
“We’re holding vaccination events throughout the state, with help from the Missouri Department of Mental Health, to ensure our staff have safe and convenient access, Pojmann said. “Missourians eligible for Tier 2 are those who are age 65 or older and/or have certain medical conditions. This group includes more than 8,000 Missourians currently incarcerated in state prisons—in other words, more than a third of our statewide inmate population.”
Pojmann said that the department has focused energies and resources in multiple areas of risk reduction and viral containment. Early in the pandemic, long before there were any cases of COVID-19 in Missouri state prisons, a viral containment strategy was created for the department as a whole and for each facility individually.
“While prisons in neighboring states have experienced outbreaks affecting as much as 75%-80% of the population of one facility at one time, in Missouri the most significant outbreaks affected about 4%-10% of any one facility,” Pojmann said.
Currently, Fulton–the facility with the largest number of active offender COVID cases–about 3% of the offender population is affected.
The department of corrections has also turned to technology to combat the virus.
“Our most recent approach to viral containment is the combination of ionization generators installed in air handling systems and the use of electrostatic sprayers in common areas of all facilities,” Pojmann said.
The iWave air purifying devices destroy 99.4% of COVID-19 within 30 minutes and also kill other viruses, bacteria, mold, allergens and pollutants. More than 1,468 units have been installed in prisons, community supervision centers, the Transition Center of St. Louis, and other state-owned facilities.
Electrostatic disinfectant sprayers, used with vital oxide disinfectant, instantly covers surfaces with a fine disinfecting mist, killing COVID-19 and other pathogens on contact. Corrections offices and the common areas inside prisons and other facilities are treated with this system on a regular schedule.
Since two technologies in particular were implemented in December, the number of active COVID-19 cases has dropped by 87%, Pojmann said. The department also uses wastewater testing in all facilities to detect the virus in human waste.