Staff member at Juneau’s Lemon Creek Correctional Center has COVID-19

Corrections officers wait outside of a cell during a weekly inspection at the Lemon Creek Correctional Center in Juneau on June 18, 2016, in Juneau.  (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

A staff member of Juneau’s Lemon Creek Correctional Center has tested positive for COVID-19. 

In mid-March, Lemon Creek had about 248 prisoners and 76 staff. In an evening media release, the state’s Department of Corrections says this is the first person working for the department who has tested positive for the virus. 

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Staff at the jail told inmates they had been exposed late Thursday.

Lemon Creek Correctional Center staff implemented a response plan and  “took swift action to protect the health and welfare of inmates and staff at the facility.”

However, it’s not clear what that action is — no one from the jail, or the Department of Corrections answered afternoon and evening emails or phone calls seeking clarification on what specific actions they took to protect inmates, whether masks and gloves are available for inmates and staff, and whether inmates have the ability to socially isolate from one another. 

There have been restrictions in place at corrections facilities statewide due to the pandemic — visitors haven’t been allowed in almost a month. And, they’ve waived copays for prison-based health services. In late-March all facilities started screening employees and contractors for fever at the start of each shift. 

And, people at Department of Corrections facilities statewide — including at Lemon Creek — have begun sewing cloth face coverings for staff and inmate use. 

According to state testing data, 17 inmates had been tested for COVID-19 as of yesterday.  Of those, 11 tests were negative and 6 are still pending. 

Alaska has more than 4,700 inmates statewide.

Rashah McChesney is a photojournalist turned radio journalist who has been telling stories in Alaska since 2012. Before joining Alaska's Energy Desk, she worked at Kenai's Peninsula Clarion and the Juneau bureau of the Associated Press. She is a graduate of Iowa State University's Greenlee Journalism School and has worked in public television, newspapers and now radio, all in the quest to become the Swiss Army knife of storytellers.

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