More than half of inmates at George Co. prison have COVID after hundreds of tests come back positive

Most state inmates housed at the George County jail were transferred from the South Mississippi...
Most state inmates housed at the George County jail were transferred from the South Mississippi Correctional Institution. (Photo Source: WLOX)
Updated: Jul. 29, 2020 at 5:20 PM CDT
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GEORGE COUNTY, Miss. (WLOX) - A tidal wave of positive test results for the novel coronavirus came in at the George County Correctional Facility, showing that 229 inmates have the virus. That’s over half of the inmates in the facility.

125 COVID-19 cases were confirmed Tuesday night, and George County Sheriff Keith Havard said more results have been flooding in all day Wednesday.

Although a significant number of inmates tested positive, most cases are not life-threatening. The prison is, however, working with the George County Regional Hospital for healthcare assistance.

“Some inmates are coming out on the positive side of this already,” said Havard. “Many aren’t showing any symptoms and some just have a basic cough. Luckily, we don’t have any severe cases.”

Two inmates were hospitalized and have since been released. Inmates that initially tested positive are starting to recover, according to Havard.

Given the influx of cases, the prison will not take in new inmates; rather, those that would normally be housed in the George County Correctional Facility will be transported to another prison.

Havard believes the facility will have enough space to help the sick inmates, saying “we’ll have to double up some. We may have to bring mattresses in. We’re doing the best we can.”

The inmates who have tested positive were put in separate zones and are being monitored by medical staff. Local law enforcement also has made adjustments to help out as needed.

“Officers are working overtime and the sheriff’s department will assist if need be, providing extra staff to do that,” said Bobby Fairley, Warden at the George Regional Correctional Facility.

Every employee and inmate is required to wear PPE and now, the prison is working with the Emergency Management Agency to order more personal protective equipment.

As of Tuesday afternoon, officials at the prison knew six inmates and seven staff members tested positive and were starting to learn of more cases.

The number of staff members who have the virus remains the same, and three of those workers are still out of work.

This news was not a complete shock to the George County Sheriff as he noted he had an uneasy feeling when the first coronavirus tests came back positive.

“I kind of figured this bad news was coming when they tested seven inmates and six came back positive. That’s never a good sign,” said Havard.

According to officials at the prison, they knew they needed to act fast after becoming aware that COVID-19 had made its way inside the facility.

Thus, the decision was made early last week to test all staff members and inmates, to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“We are just making the best out of a bad situation,” said George County Sheriff Keith Havard. “We are just going to have to weather the storm.”

The choice to test everyone who walks in and out of the facility was not one enforced by the Mississippi Department of Corrections, said Havard; rather, the decision was one that officials in George County felt was best.

Despite their quick call to action, Havard noted that testing alone will not stop the virus from spreading, especially when inmates tend to come in close contact with one another.

“It is very difficult. We are trying to do the best we can and as much as possible, but we are constantly cleaning and sanitizing. All employees are wearing their personal protective equipment (PPE) and doing whatever we can to keep as far away from each other as much as we possibly can and limit contact,” Havard said.

Looking towards the future, Havard said they plan to continue testing inmates and staff as much as they can. He said the prison is dependent on the state health department to provide the testing equipment. They also look to the health department for advice on how to proceed forward in this worldwide health crisis, as well as MDOC.

For now, they will continue to follow CDC guidelines such as social distancing, sanitizing surfaces that are frequently touched, and monitoring symptoms for both employees and inmates.

“The big thing is stopping the spread and doing what we can to keep everyone safe, rotating out shifts and stuff like that to where we have personnel coming back that are going to be healthy.... mainly just try to flatten the curve and try to knock this thing out as best as we possibly can,” Havard said.

In the daily coronavirus update released by the Mississippi Department of Health, George County reached an all-time high number of cases, reporting 122 new cases. Across the state, 1,505 new cases were reported as well as 20 new deaths.

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