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Nearly one-third of the 973 inmates held at Sussex Correctional Institution outside Georgetown have tested positive for the coronavirus, officials confirmed Monday.
The 303 inmates positive for the virus at the prison comprise the worst outbreak at any state-run facility during the pandemic. State officials also said Monday that 21 officers at the prison have tested positive while another 18 are quarantined as they await test results.
Delaware Department of Correction Commissioner Claire DeMatteis said the virus "predominately hit" three dormitory-style housing units at the prison.
The first hints of the outbreak at the prison, known as SCI, came earlier this month when an inmate that had contracted the virus before being booked into the facility tested positive.
After initial tests hinted the virus had taken root in the facility, correction officials ordered each prisoner there tested. The batch of positive tests confirmed Monday represents the results for all but 20 imprisoned there.
DeMatteis said the department is taking "extraordinary measures" to reduce the risk of new infections.
After denying inmates face coverings earlier this year, the prison is providing masks to all 900 SCI inmates. Programs, visitation and the intake of new prisoners are also suspended at the prison for now.
"We have isolated the inmates with the illness in our COVID-19 treatment centers where they are receiving round-the-clock monitoring and care by medical professionals," DeMatteis said.
The outbreak at SCI also spread to Morris Community Correction Center in Dover when three infected inmates were transferred from the Sussex prison. There are now 17 inmates who have tested positive for the virus at Morris, officials said Monday.
The outbreak comes one month after officials were able to fight back the spread at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center near Smyrna. A total of 128 inmates at Vaughn, the state's largest prison by population, tested positive for the virus earlier this year.
While that prison has no active cases among its inmate population, the earlier outbreak killed seven.
It's a death rate that is one of the highest in the country, according to statistics compiled by the Marshall Project, a nonprofit news publication that has been tracking coronavirus cases and deaths in prisons across the country.
According to those statistics, Delaware has the fourth-highest rate of death per capita compared with its overall prison population in the country.
As of now, the prison system has 320 inmates who have recently tested positive, and all are either from SCI or at the Dover work release facility. Of those, 1 in 10 is showing symptoms, officials said Monday.
Of those 32 prisoners showing symptoms, four are in local hospitals and two in the Vaughn prison infirmary. Correction officials said they were in "stable" condition as of Monday afternoon, and none are on a ventilator.
Other states have resorted to releasing some prisoners early to avoid a potentially deadly infection.
Locally, advocates like the local American Civil Liberties Union have called on state officials to release those serving sentences for nonviolent crimes and might have preexisting health problems that make the virus more deadly.
Officials from Gov. John Carney down to Commissioner DeMatteis have said that won't happen.
Correction officials said Monday that nearly three dozen SCI inmates who are negative for the virus and are older than 60 or have underlying health issues have been transferred from SCI to a vacant building at Vaughn prison to protect their health.
They have also transferred 87 inmates with the virus to a separate coronavirus treatment center at Vaughn prison. Prison officials said that visitation at all the state's facilities is being suspended. That comes weeks after it was reinstated at most of the state's prisons.
The intent is to stop the spread and direct staffing stretched by quarantines to security details, officials said.