- The Washington Times
Tuesday, November 17, 2020

A federal prison in Louisiana failed to contain the spread of the deadly coronavirus because officials waited too long to screen inmates and ignored federal guidelines requiring asymptomatic inmates to be quarantined, a federal watchdog said in a scathing report Tuesday.

The report by the Justice Department Inspector General concluded that officials at the Bureau of Prisons facilities in Oakdale, Louisiana, waited almost two months to test all the inmates after the first positive case turned up in March.

“We identified numerous failures in Oakdale officials’ response to the COVID-19 outbreak that undermined their ability to contain the spread of the disease at the complex,” Inspector General Michael Horowitz wrote in a 62-page report.

The Oakdale complex was among the hardest hit by the coronavirus, with 256 inmates and 51 staffers testing positive, according to the most recent Bureau of Prisons’ statistics. A total of eight inmates died due to the virus.

The report said a staff teacher at the facility came to work in early March despite contracting the virus during a trip to New York City, but the individual was never tested for the virus or told to quarantine.

Contract tracing revealed the first four inmates to test positive for COVID-19 came from an education class by that teacher and the first inmate to die from the virus was the teacher’s assistant, the report found.

“Delays in staff education about COVID-19 transmission and the complete lack of initial staff screening for COVID-19 risk factors gave Oakdale no opportunity to consider or discuss the risks of allowing the teacher to enter the institution at a time when New York was an area known to be experiencing sustained community spread of COVID-19,” Mr. Horowitz wrote.

Personal protection equipment was so “dire” that the morning Health Services staff would arrive only to find that the Correctional Services staff had used all their supplies during the overnight shift, the report said.

Those who had access to personal protection equipment did not always comply with the Bureau of Prisons’ directives on wearing it, Mr. Horowitz said.

Some staffers who were in close contact with inmates did not have access to N95 respirators and others did not consistently wear surgical masks even after receiving them.

During a mass testing period in May, Oakdale officials did not instruct staffers to wear a full complement of personal protection of equipment.

One staff member only wore a surgical mask, not the more effective N95 respirator, while in contact with sick inmates. That staff member later tested positive for COVID-19.

Another staff member told investigators that he did not wear a mask while transporting a sick inmate to the hospital because his supervisor said he did not need one, the report said.

“Oakdale staff members told us that, in their view, management’s failure to adequately communicate and engage with staff at the beginning of the outbreak confused staff and created an environment in which staff felt that management did not appreciate them or lacked concern for their overall well-being,” Mr. Horowitz wrote.

Only 15% of Oakdale staffers who spoke with investigators said guidance from the executive staff was “timely” and only 14% described it as “clear,” the report said. One respondant told investigators staffers get “different guidance and it’s conflicting.”

In a response accompanying the report, the Bureau of Prisons disputed the inspector general’s findings.

A Bureau of Prisons executive said that Oakdale complied with all guidance, including screening staffers and offering instructions on how to use personal protection equipment.

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