You’re locked up at home and at times it may feel like a prison given the recent quarantine orders to try and cut off COVID-19’s spread. For most, this is just temporary and at some point our lives will return to normal. But for those who are incarcerated, staying locked up is their normal life yet COVID-19 is affecting them all the same.
The coronavirus has crossed oceans, stowed away on airplanes and snuck past borders … a barbed-wire fence offers no protection against the spread of infection.
The over 600 people housed in the Department of Corrections are as much at risk as the elderly because those incarcerated are considered a vulnerable population in the COVID-19 pandemic.
DOC Major Antone Aguon shares that keeping the infection out will be challenging.
“What’s so hard is that we’re fighting a war here and our opponent is invisible. Our opponent is invisible we can’t see it we can’t see who we are fighting and we are basically fighting everybody right now because we just don’t know where it’s coming from,” Aguon said.
As of Tuesday, DOC reported that one DOC recruit tested positive for coronavirus. The recruit was instructed not to report for duty and to stay home.
“Yes, he is a correctional officer recruit and at this portion of their training, the recruits were assigned to do on the job training. So they are spread out through the facility and at different hours. Not all the recruits will be assigned together at one time, they’re all over the compound,” Aguon said.
At this point, tracing who the recruit came in contact with at the prison compound is being investigated but according to the department, no one at the facility has presented symptoms of exposure so far.
Acting Director of Corrections, Joseph S. Carbullido, ordered that all 38 recruits that may have had contact with the recruit that tested positive for COVID-19, self-quarantine at home out of an abundance of caution.
“We are narrowing it down to what post he was assigned and so we are working with the warden and them putting information together for the Director,” Aguon said.
Exposure to the virus in the prison setting can spread like wildfire as those who serve in the island’s prison are the conduits and possible carriers of COVID-19 while shuttling between the community and the prison.
Aguon has gone on record to state that DOC is taking the pandemic seriously, screening all incoming detainees and staff for infection, temporarily suspending visitation, as well as limiting prisoner movements like transfers between facilities. We asked if there were any additional infection control measures.
“From the beginning, the department has been very concerned about the safety and well-being of the population and for the staff and their family to the point where if staffers are not wearing masks they could be disciplined. I mean that’s how serious the director is taking it,” Aguon said.
Aguon acknowledges that it is a challenge many prisons across the nation are facing. He says DOC is doing their best with the resources available but the longer the pandemic is, the harder it will become.