Serial testing, PPE just the tip of DOC safety measures
January 7, 2021
WALLA WALLA—As the COVID-19 pandemic has continued to impact Washington State Penitentiary (WSP) employees and incarcerated population, the Department of Corrections (DOC) has updated policies and procedures to better combat the virus at facilities throughout Washington State.
Starting April 10, 2020, DOC mandated the use of facial coverings for staff at all DOC locations, and on April 17, the DOC expanded the mandate to include facial coverings for the incarcerated population. On November 6, DOC mandated the specific use of surgical masks for all employees, contractors, and those entering the facilities due to an increased number of COVID-19 cases in communities throughout Washington state. The November 6 mandate has remained in effect.
Employees must use the DOC PPE Matrix to determine personal protective equipment (PPE) when interacting with the incarcerated population. The matrix, which is available to view at http://www.doc.wa.gov, lays out the required protective measures for various situations, including entering an isolation area to distribute laundry or food service items, screening staff, and incarcerated individuals.
The Department of Corrections began serial testing of DOC employees on June 24, 2020, at the Coyote Ridge Corrections Center, and later expanded testing to all DOC facilities across the state. Staff members are screened upon entering the facility and are tested for the COVID-19 virus weekly. Employees who present symptoms or have been exposed to active cases are put on leave and asked to remain at home until they receive a COVID-19 test result.
The Washington State Penitentiary follows the Washington State DOC COVID-19 Screening, Testing, and Infection Control Guidelines to ensure that the entire incarcerated population, whether healthy or positive for COVID-19, continue to have access to basic necessities. Incarcerated individuals have been grouped in cohorts. Movement within the facilities, including access to showers, dayrooms, kiosks, and phones, is scheduled for each cohort. Incarcerated individuals must maintain six feet of distance and wear appropriate PPE while in shared areas. There are instances where some activities, like access to phones and commons areas, are limited for short periods to help contain an outbreak.
As of April 8, 2020, the Washington State Penitentiary staff and all other DOC facilities must follow the WA DOC Cleaning and Disinfecting Guidelines. These cleaning and disinfecting guidelines are based on recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The janitorial staff, including porters, are trained on proper safety procedures and how to properly use each cleaning agent.
Incarcerated individuals are tested for the COVID-19 virus if they are identified during contact tracing, if they self-identify symptoms, or if they have been identified by staff as symptomatic. Current testing information, including completed and pending tests, can be found on the DOC COVID-19 data page, https://tinyurl.com/y48hdjta. Washington State Penitentiary has established multiple housing alternatives to separate healthy individuals from those who have tested positive for COVID-19.
To combat some of the pandemic-related boredom, WSP provided quarantined or isolated incarcerated individuals with paper packets that contained brain teaser puzzles and coloring activities. Walla Walla Community College also provides homework packets to students who are confined to keep them engaged with their programs. The packets provided by WWCC ensure that students can continue their classes until it is safe for classes to resume.
As requirements change due to the pandemic, the DOC will continue to update procedures to reflect the newest guidance. All information on the DOC’s COVID-19 response, including a significant events timeline, vaccine updates, testing updates, and general news, can be found on the DOC website, http://www.doc.wa.gov.