BOISE, Idaho — The Idaho Department of Correction (IDOC) has been a hot spot for the coronavirus, causing the prison system to adapt on the fly during COVID-19. When the pandemic started, the IDOC operated at over 100 percent capacity, with more than half of the prison system arranged in a dorm-style format.
"We started out behind the 8-ball in terms of being over capacity quite a bit, and I think complicating that is the nature of our layout," said Bree Derrick, the Deputy Director at IDOC.
IDOC has also had challenges due to the movement throughout the prison system, but they have set up medical tents for quarantine areas and separated the inmates who tested positive for COVID-19 as well as the asymptomatic people from the rest of the population.
"We are really working with CDC guidelines on test, trace and quarantine," said Derrick. "As we are testing, we are looking at who else has been exposed and immediately separating those people into groups."
So far, IDOC has conducted 4,139 tests for the virus, 760 inmates got COVID-19 and recovered, 63 people are currently positive with symptoms while another 258 are positive but asymptomatic.
The Idaho Department of Corrections has had one inmate with underlying health conditions die because of the coronavirus, a 65-year-old man passed away in a hospital a week after being transported from the prison.
"We know that there is mortality associated with COVID, and we know that's part of the numbers, but these are real people," said Derrick.
Standard operating procedures in the prison system requires inmates and staff to wear masks, IDOC believes the virus was brought into the prison system by a staff member.
It has also been tough for family members as the testing and the shuffling has lead to communication issues with inmates and their loved ones.
"It can feel very anxiety-provoking for the family not to know what is going on and then to have a gap in communication," said Derrick. "Our first priority is to protect the health and safety of the people in our custody and care, and the staff."
Adding another element to this complex problem happens in September when IDOC's contract expires in Texas, forcing a need to house 600 additional inmates.