The novel coronavirus, which causes the respiratory disease known as COVID-19, was first detected in late 2019. Since then, it has spread around the world, claiming more than 700,000 lives. This contagious disease has been responsible for government-mandated lockdowns, school cancellations, and significant changes in the way people interact and do business.
Prisoners are in a vulnerable situation because of their close, constant proximity to other people. Their inability to maintain a safe social distance makes it possible for COVID-19 to spread from person to person quickly. While some prisoners have been released to reduce the number of prisoners and try to curtail the number of inmates who contract COVID-19, other prisons in the U.S. and around the globe have faced riots over the spread of the virus.
Correctional facilities are in a unique situation, but some measures can be taken to protect inmates and employees.
Clear communication is crucial for combating COVID-19. Establish a screening process for all employees and visitors arriving at your prison’s grounds. Create a checklist with the symptoms and add the nearby locations that have been identified as a potential hotspot for the virus. For example, if it is reported that a cashier at a gas station tested positive, you will want to ask staff if they purchased anything at that gas station within the last two weeks. Maintain detailed records of areas employees work each day, and inmates they are in contact with. These records will enable you to effectively identify those at risk of exposure and take measures to isolate those individuals.
Orion Communications specializes in creating custom software for prisons. Orion Communications has workforce information software that enables you to identify where each employee works. Their operational equipment software can provide you with a system that effectively tracks which staff have had access to specific equipment on site. You can use this software to determine whether a staff who may have been exposed to the virus used equipment that could be contaminated and direct cleaning staff to disinfect those items.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) can help prevent people from spreading the novel coronavirus. Masks should cover a person’s mouth and nose when they’re worn. COVID-19 is thought to be spread through droplets expelled when people talk, spit, sneeze, and cough. When a person wears a mask, it’s harder for droplets to be expelled through the air, where others may come in contact with them. A mask also serves as a reminder not to touch your face. One of the primary ways individuals contract COVID-19 is by touching something with droplets on it and then touching their face. The orifices in the face become a conduit for the virus, allowing it to enter the person’s body.
Explain to inmates and employees how face masks can prevent COVID-19. You can reduce the spread of the virus by requiring correctional officers to wear masks at all times once they enter your facility and requiring inmates to wear masks when they are out of their cells.
Gloves are another form of PPE that should be utilized whenever possible in prisons. Provide staff with gloves and encourage them to wear gloves when handling any other items people may have physically touched. It is possible to contract the virus by touching something a person with the virus has been in contact with, but wearing gloves can prevent individuals from touching their faces and keep the virus from accessing the person’s body through cuts.
It may be possible to convert rooms in the prison into sleeping areas and spread prisoners out. This can prevent overcrowding and enable inmates to practice social distancing. One of the reasons people are encouraged to stay at least six feet apart is to prevent them from coming in contact with droplets others expel. This distance also prevents people from expelling droplets on others if they have the virus.
Install automatic doors in areas inmates access. These doors open and close when sensors are triggered. While this may not be prudent for all doors, inmates can open automatic doors without touching them.
Sensor-activated toilets, soap dispensers, and faucets can also be installed to prevent people from coming in contact with contaminated surfaces.