By ANDREW SELSKY The Associated Press
SALEM, Ore. (AP) — An inmate in the Oregon State Penitentiary who tested positive for COVID-19 has died, authorities said Thursday, marking the first known death in the state of a prisoner linked to the coronavirus.
The state’s only maximum security prison has become a hot zone for the coronavirus. A total of 148 prisoners — 115 of them inmates at the state penitentiary in Salem — have tested positive as well as 38 employees, 26 of whom worked in the penitentiary, according to the Oregon Department of Corrections.
The Oregon Justice Resource Center urged Gov. Kate Brown to help.
“We have heard from dozens of incarcerated Oregonians, many of whom are medically vulnerable, and their families about their fears of the harm contracting the disease could do to them,” said Juan Chavez, civil rights project director of the advocacy group.
He said there’s an urgent need for a comprehensive program of prevention, testing and care throughout Oregon’s prisons. The corrections department says it has 14,500 adults in custody in 14 institutions across the state.
The person who died was between 50 and 60 years old and died at a hospital on Wednesday, the corrections department said.
It said its facilities are cleaned several times a day and inmates are encouraged custody to wash hands frequently for at least 20 seconds, to cough and sneeze into their elbow and to avoid touching their face.
The ACLU of Oregon says the state’s prison system is overcrowded, making social distancing impossible.
“We must reduce Oregon’s prison population by safely transitioning people out of prison, especially those whose sentences are nearly complete, people who are medically vulnerable, and elderly people,” the group says.
More than 3,700 people in Oregon have tested positive for the disease and at least 145 have died. The virus causes mild to moderate symptoms in most patients, and the vast majority recover. But it is highly contagious and can cause severe illness and death in some patients, particularly the elderly and those with underlying health conditions.
As most counties across the state begin entering phase one of reopening, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission is allowing establishments to expand the areas where they can serve alcohol into adjoining parking lots, sidewalks and streets. That enables them to serve more customers while maintaining social distancing, but must have permission to occupy the adjoining areas.
An application form says the primary activity in the expanded area must be for consuming food, or not be an environment where drinking alcohol is the primary activity.
Restaurants, bars, salons, gyms and other businesses in Marion and Polk counties have been approved to reopen starting Friday with strict safety measures meant to halt the spread of the coronavirus.
Brown on Wednesday approved a plan for easing of restrictions that allows some businesses and services to operate while keeping sanitation, physical distancing, face covering, and crowd size measures in place, the Statesman Journal reported.
The counties are required to remain in the first phase for at least 21 days, and can only advance to more advanced phases if public health monitoring indicates it is safe.
The later phases of the plan allow for increased gathering sizes and resumption of non-essential travel, nursing home and hospital visits, and additional seating at restaurants, bars, and other venues.
Only three counties have not had applications approved for Phase 1. Clackamas County is awaiting approval while Washington and Multnomah counties have not yet submitted their plans.