By Paul Kiefer
A prison-wide outbreak of COVID-19 at the Monroe Correctional Complex in Snohomish County last month sickened hundreds of people and forced prison administrators to convert some wings of the prison into quarantine wards. Two weeks later, some of those who were placed in quarantine say that prison administrators have left them in the dark during the ordeal, leaving some unsure of whether they were, in fact, COVID-positive when they were placed in cells with sick inmates.
More than half, or 855, of the 1,600 people incarcerated at Monroe have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past 30 days, which represents roughly half of the prison’s total cases since the start of the pandemic. During smaller outbreaks, prison administrators transformed some of the prison’s solitary confinement cells into medical isolation pods for those with the most serious infections. The scale of January’s outbreak, however, overwhelmed the prison’s earlier quarantine strategies and prompted a complicated re-shuffling of prisoners.
In the prison’s largest housing complex, administrators chose to place COVID-positive prisoners in the C unit, which typically holds people convicted of sex offenses. People who were moved to the C unit, however, say that not everyone placed in quarantine is certain they were COVID-positive when they arrived.
Jeremiah Winchester, who tested positive for the virus, said that some C unit residents who tested negative for COVID-19 were left in their cells alongside new COVID-positive arrivals from elsewhere in the prison. “As far as they know, they weren’t sick when we got here,” he said, “but after all this time with us, they’ve probably caught the virus.” Another man incarcerated at Monroe, Darwin Williams, claimed that guards moved him to the C unit after his COVID rapid test came back with inconclusive results. “I still don’t know for sure if I was infected or not when I got here, and they haven’t tested me again,” he said.
A spokesperson for the Washington Department of Corrections (DOC) didn’t outright deny the inmates’ claims, telling PubliCola that the C unit “currently is housing only COVID-19 positive individuals,” and that prisoners who tested negative “have been removed” from the unit; the spokesperson did not specify when COVID-negative prisoners were removed from the unit. Continue reading “COVID Outbreak at Monroe Prison Creates Confusion About Quarantine”