A new cluster of 110 COVID-19 infections has been identified at the South Dakota Women’s Prison in Pierre.
South Dakota Department of Health officials on Thursday announced there were 105 total cases among inmates, three of which are recovered, at the prison during their regular COVID-19 news conference. The 105 cases occurred in the Pierre Community Work Center, according to a paragraph on the Department of Corrections’ website, updated Thursday at 9:19 a.m. Five staff members at the work center also tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total to 110.
The outbreak at the work center is by far the largest of all South Dakota’s prisons. The facility with the second-highest number of positive cases among inmates is Jameson Annex with four positive cases.
As of Sept. 17, 102 inmates are housed in PCWC and 307 inmates in the Women’s Prison and Unit E. Based on that average, 25% of the population in the women’s prison is infected with COVID-19.
Under the guidance of the State Department of Health, the Department of Corrections conducted a mass testing event at the PCWC on Sept. 14. The results identified numerous cases and those affected were placed in isolation, according to Department of Corrections Public Information Officer Michael Winder.
”Because of the number of positive cases, those inmates who had previously tested positive and those who tested positive during the mass testing were moved to the PCWC, which is located east of the Women’s Prison. Inmates at PCWC who did not test positive were moved to the Women’s Prison. Those inmates who were identified as close contacts to those who tested positive are on quarantine status at the Women’s Prison,” Winder said.
“The Department of Corrections is working very hard on the response to this,” Secretary of Health Kim Malsam-Rysdon said during the Thursday news conference.
The South Dakota Women’s Prison is part of the Solem Public Safety Center, which houses the prison, Department of Corrections administrative offices, and law enforcement agencies of the state, county and city governments, according to the South Dakota Department of Corrections website. The Women’s Prison takes up most of the 78,000-square-foot building. The state agencies that share a building with the prison have various measures already in place to keep their employees safe from an outbreak, according to Malsom-Rysdon.
Also on the prison grounds is Unit E, a minimum security unit, and the Pierre Community Work Center, where the bulk of the outbreak is located. The Community Work Center houses minimum security inmates on work release and community service status, as well as parolees in the Community Transition Program, according to the prison’s webpage.
Due to the outbreak, inmates cannot go out into the community for work release or community service projects. Also suspended is visitation, programming and contact with volunteers. However, video visitation continues, and inmates have access to tablets for phone calls and messaging. The inmates each get two additional, free phone calls per week.
Inmates are considered temporary residents of Hughes County for the duration of their incarceration, but some cases that occur in prison might not be reflected in the data for the county and instead counted for a county where an inmate had a previous address. The state health department is constantly updating the data on its Coronavirus Updates and Information webpage, https://doh.sd.gov/news/coronavirus.aspx.
This brings the total number of active cases in Hughes County to 116, according to the health department website as of 3:30 p.m. Thursday. The majority of these cases are associated with the women’s prison, but no additional increases associated with the prison have occurred in the general population.
South Dakota Epidemiologist Dr. Joshua Clayton said that the health department is seeing general increases in positive cases throughout the state, as well as increases in the number of hospitalizations due to COVID-19. So far in September, there have been 144 hospitalizations statewide, compared to 212 at the end of August, 152 at the end of July, and 229 in June. Clayton said the state is still “well below” its maximum capacity for hospital beds reserved for COVID patients.
As of Friday afternoon, 389 new cases, 144 current hospitalizations, and 198 deaths were listed on the Department of Health’s website. The total number of COVID-19 cases in South Dakota is 18,075, 2,809 of which are active infections.