Delaware confirms its first COVID-19 prisoner death


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Xerxes Wilson,


The combination of COVID-19 and an underlying lung disease killed an inmate housed at Delaware's largest prison, officials said Friday. 


Joseph Russo, 73, died Thursday. He is the first inmate to die of COVID-19 complications in Delaware.


He was housed in the building where 12 other inmates at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center have tested positive for COVID-19. Last week, he did not show symptoms but was proactively tested. The result was negative. He was hospitalized Tuesday and again tested negative.


A third test confirmed Friday that COVID-19 contributed to his death. 


Russo was serving a life sentence after being convicted in 1994 of raping and sexually assaulting an underage girl over multiple years. He lived in the Claymont's Knollwood neighborhood at the time of his arrest, according to The News Journal archives. 


Department of Correction Commissioner Claire DeMatteis said his death "reinforces the critical importance of all of the aggressive, proactive screening, monitoring, cleaning and treatment efforts that are being carried out around the clock."


The first correctional officer working in Delaware's prisons tested positive April 3. As of Friday, there have been 37 positive cases in Delaware's correctional facilities. That includes 19 correctional staffers and three contractors at seven locations.

It also includes 15 inmates at two facilities. All but two of those are at Vaughn.


As of Wednesday, DeMatteis said there is "no evidence" COVID-19 has spread beyond the one housing unit at Vaughn where Russo lived and all other positive inmate cases have been found.


Another wave of proactive tests on inmates in a nearby building with an adjoining recreation area turned up no positive cases, officials said Friday. One test from that batch of 49 is still pending. 


Officials have also screened nine inmates in the Sussex Community Corrections Center where two inmates have tested positive for the virus. Those tests are pending.


On Friday, officials also announced three more correctional officers at Vaughn had tested positive. One was last working in the prison on Tuesday. The others have been out of work since April 12 and April 8. 



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