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State says plan in the works to test Alabama’s entire inmate population

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Department of Corrections says it will eventually test every prison inmate for COVID-19. A timeline is being developed of how and when this testing will occur.

In a press release, ADOC says this expansion of testing is a way to “enhance its virus containment and clinical management strategies to best protect the safety, security and wellbeing of its staff and inmate population.”

The first phase of testing will be for those most medically vulnerable within the inmate population, the department said.

Several advocacy groups as well as Democratic lawmakers, including party leader Rep. Chris England of Tuscaloosa, for months have called on the Corrections Department to expand testing in its crowded prisons.

Inmates will also be tested prior to their release and notification of positive results will be provided to the health department of the county where the inmate will reside.

Currently, inmates are tested upon intake, if they exhibit signs or symptoms of the virus and prior to any community medical appointments or procedures.

Staff members are expected to self-report if tested positive and self-quarantine as directed by their health care providers.

The new expansive testing will also include staff members who will be provided free testing on a yet-to-be-determined schedule, the department said. The Corrections Department’s Office of Health Services is working on community partners to develop fixed and mobile testing sites for staff members.

“Our intent is to take a strategic and methodical approach in an effort to ensure that protocols can be implemented successfully, clinical resources remain available, and necessary staffing levels can be maintained,” the press release said. “We will continue to consult with the Alabama Department of Public Health as we move toward our goal of testing all inmates across the correctional system.”

Corrections last week revised how it reports COVID-19 cases to the public.

The department said it will no longer provided “non-critical details, including dorm- or area-specific quarantine measures taken as a result of a positive test, whether the inmate in question was symptomatic or asymptomatic at the time of the positive test, or if he or she requires a higher level of medical care following a positive test result.”

The department said the purpose of this is to “reduce the daily burden on key medical staff as it relates to reporting non-critical details” and create a more sustainable model for sharing COVID-19 news with the public.

Daily updates will still be provided by Corrections about newly identified cases among inmates and staff, as well as news of COVID-19 related inmate deaths.

As of Sunday, the Corrections Department has tested 535 inmates, 100 have tested positive, 28 have recovered and 10 have died from the coronavirus. The department says 203 employees have tested positive, 125 have recovered and two employees have died according to the Corrections’ COVID-19 dashboard.

According to the department’s most recently available statistical report from April, Alabama’s state prisons house about 21,000 inmates.