Ricketts 'very confident' about handling COVID-19 in prisons

Gov. Pete Ricketts speaks Monday (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)
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August 31, 2020 - 3:54pm

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts says he’s very confident in the state’s plans for handling COVID-19 in prisons, despite a sharp rise in the number of inmates testing positive.

The Department of Correctional Services announced Sunday 29 inmates at the Nebraska State Penitentiary had tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday. They were tested after the department said one inmate who was experiencing symptoms but had not immediately notified medical staff was tested Thursday and confirmed positive Friday.

Up until Friday, only 14 inmates had tested positive throughout the entire prison system, and only one of those was at the penitentiary.

Ricketts was asked about the situation at a news conference Monday.

“We’ve got a plan with regard to our Department of Corrections on how to manage this, so we’re just going to be continuing to work our plan, and that’s what Director (Scott) Frakes has put in place. So I’m very confident he’s just going to continue to manage this,” Ricketts said.

The governor compared quarantining inmates who test positive to asking people not in prison to stay home if they test positive or have been exposed.

“That’s what Director Frakes has is the ability to quarantine people, keep them away from other folks, so that we limit the spread. But that’s what we’ve got to do is just continue to manage this, because it’s a virus. It transmits from person to person and there are going to be environments like our corrections system where it’s going to be difficult to do that,” he said.

Officials said none of those who tested positive is in the skilled nursing unit at the penitentiary or in a hospital outside prison walls.

 Testing in prison is voluntary. The department said of approximately 600 inmates initially offered testing, 332 had agreed to be tested, and more tests were now being offered.

Inspector General for Corrections Doug Koebernick said some inmates resist being tested out of concern that if they test positive, they could lose their familiar cell and cellmate, and their personal property could be stolen or misplaced while they were in a different unit on quarantine.




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