CONCORD — The first worker in the state prison system to test positive for COVID-19 is in quarantine at home, according to state officials.
Officials did not identify the age, gender or residence of the New Hampshire State Prison employee, who last worked at the prison on March 25.
When the worker came in for their next shift and entered a screening portal at the prison, the employee was denied entry and asked to follow up with a health care provider. The employee tested positive test for the coronavirus Friday, officials said.
No other staff or inmates have tested positive for the coronavirus, officials said.
Starting at the end of January, the Corrections Department began screening visitors, volunteers and newly booked prisoners.
In the first week of March, additional screening methods were implemented for visitors and volunteers as well as an updated screening regimen for new resident intakes, parole violators and transfers based on the guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control.
The staff screening included taking the workers’ temperature and a visual check in addition to a questionnaire, officials said.
On March 16, visitation and volunteer services were suspended to prevent the introduction of COVID-19 into facilities.
The head of the American Civil Liberties of New Hampshire urged correction officials to exercise even more caution.
“When a staff member at any correctional facility tests positive for COVID-19, it underscores the fact that residents of such facilities and corrections officers, despite increased procedures, are at a heightened risk of contracting the illness,” ACLU-NH Executive Director Devon Chaffee said, noting social distancing is impossible in a corrections setting.
“We continue to strongly urge prisons and jails to take further measures to release those most vulnerable before an outbreak occurs in a correctional facility in the Granite State. This unprecedented health crisis requires urgent and creative steps to protect those most vulnerable to infection, and the time to act decisively is now.”
News of this first positive test comes as a national coalition of correction officers is urging governors to limit the spread of COVID-19 and protect the lives of those living and working inside prisons, jails and detention facilities.
“Correctional officers and staff are essential front line workers in the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, but we’re being asked to perform our duties with inadequate protections,” said Andy Potter, the founder of One Voice, a group formed to amplify the voices of corrections officers and staff in criminal justice reform. “The 24/7 nature of corrections makes it a critical profession where staff cannot simply stay at home with their families and self-isolate and are instead asked to perform their duties, often with limited or no protections.”
The presidents of 16 state unions, including Teamsters Local 633 in New Hampshire, have urged governors to immediately provide personal protection equipment to all staff, limit the participation of in-house programs to maintain social distancing, commit to hazard pay and sick leave, and implement other reforms.
”We face a higher risk of exposure to coronavirus and, because we commute to and from correctional facilities each day, we also risk exposing our families,” said Brian Dawe, executive director of the American Correctional Officers Intelligence Network.
According to the One Voice survey of 750 correction officers, only seven percent said their facility was “very” equipped to handle this emergency or a crisis of this magnitude.
Sixty-two percent said they do not have the tools they need to do their job in this time of crisis related to the coronavirus pandemic, and 59 percent said problems and hazards inside their facility related to the pandemic remain unaddressed.