Federal Med continues to see new coronavirus cases; Bureau issues detailed update

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Federal Medical Center (exterior)

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) – The Federal Medical Center continues to be the source of the vast majority of new coronavirus cases in Fayette County.

Meanwhile, the federal Bureau of Prisons has issued a detailed response to the issue (see below) in response to continued questions about its handling of the outbreak.

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According to the Fayette County Health Department, of the 31 new cases in the county in the last 24 hours, 29 of the them are at the federal facility which provides health care to federal inmates.

The facility houses about 1,400 prisoners.

According to the Health Department, the county now has recorded 457 confirmed COVID-19 cases since the outbreak began more than two months ago.

The federal Medical Center has 166 cases, according to the health department.

The federal Bureau of Prisons has issued a detailed release and statement about its response and handling of the facility. The information below is from Justin Long in the Office of Public Affairs in the Federal Bureau of Prisons:

The inmate population at FMC Lexington can be found on the institution’s webpage searchable here https://www.bop.gov/locations/list.jsp.  The number of inmates and staff positive and recovered from COVID-19 can be found on our Coronavirus resource page here: https://www.bop.gov/coronavirus/index.jsp.

“We realize that suspending social visiting at our institutions has an impact on inmates and their loved ones, but our primary purpose in doing so is to help keep them and the community safe.  Inquiries from family members are ordinarily forwarded to the inmate’s unit team at FMC Lexington.  The unit team provides updates with family members regarding an inmate’s health and case status.  Inmate’s next of kin are notified via phone by our Chaplains office or unit team if they are sent to the local hospital for the Coronavirus (COVID-19).  All inmates are afforded the opportunity to correspond with their family members through postal mail.  However, as a result of the infectious nature of the COVID-19 virus and our need to isolate inmates, inmates who are positive with COVID-19 at FMC Lexington are not being provided access to telephone or email at this time.  We will continue to evaluate this approach and make communication avenues more fully available as soon as possible.  Updates are provided to family inquiries as soon as possible by the unit team.  We are working to process incoming calls as quickly as possible.

“The institution recognizes how important it is to maintain family contact during these uncertain times. As such, inmate friends and families are strongly encouraged to continue corresponding with friends and family as specified above.

“As noted in my original response, the BOP continues to provide testing for COVID-19, symptomatic inmates, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). We are expanding COVID-19 testing of inmates utilizing the Abbott ID NOW instrument for Rapid RNA testing at select facilities experiencing widespread transmission. Expanding the testing with the Abbott ID NOW instruments on asymptomatic inmates will assist the slowing of transmission with isolating those individuals who test positive and quarantining contacts.

“The deployment of these additional resources will be based on facility need to contain widespread transmission and the need for early, aggressive interventions required to slow transmission at facilities with a high number of at-risk inmates such as medical referral centers. Increased testing of these inmates with the Abbott ID NOW instruments may increase the number of COVID-19 positive cases reflected on the BOP’s website.

“FMC Lexington has an Abbott testing machine and they are working with local health officials to conduct mass testing of inmates.  As in many civilian areas, increased testing has resulted in higher positive rates yet not all inmates testing positive for COVID-19 are experiencing sickness.

“For those BOP staff who are presenting with symptoms or have been identified as a close contact of a COVID-19 diagnosed individual, given the critical role our staff play with regard to public safety, we have developed a letter for staff who are in close contact of a COVID-19 positive individual to provide to the local health department to ensure such persons receive priority COVID-19 testing.  Because staff are typically tested in the community, we are unable to provide the total number of correctional officers that have been tested.

“The Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) Office of Public Affairs in our Central Office in Washington DC is handling media inquiries related to COVID-19, so you can feel free to send your inquiries to us at this email address in the future and we can consult institutions as needed.

“There are presently 50 inmates and one staff from FMC Lexington with confirmed positive lab results for COVID-19 as found on our website which updates daily here https://www.bop.gov/coronavirus/index.jsp.

“The BOP is carefully monitoring the spread of the COVID-19 virus.  As with any type of emergency situation, we carefully assess how to best ensure the safety of staff, inmates and the public.  All of our facilities, including FMC Lexington, are implementing the BOP’s guidance on mitigating the spread of COVID-19.  That guidance can be found on our website at https://www.bop.gov/coronavirus/index.jsp.  

“In response to COVID-19, the BOP has instituted a comprehensive management approach that includes screening, testing, appropriate treatment, prevention, education, and infection control measures.  The BOP has been coordinating our COVID-19 efforts since January 2020, using subject-matter experts both internal and external to the agency, including guidance and directives from the World Health Organization (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the Department of Justice (DOJ), and the Office of the Vice President.

“Using the Incident Command System (ICS) framework, we developed and implemented an incident action plan that addressed our Continuity of Operations Program (COOP), supply management, inmate movement, inmate visitation, and official staff travel, as well as other important aspects.  Our Central and Regional Offices, and the National Institute of Corrections continue to coordinate planning and guidance with state and local prisons and jails.

“The first phases of our nationwide action plan were vital steps essential to slowing the spread of the virus.  These actions included establishing a task force to begin strategic planning and building on our already existing procedures for managing pandemics.  We started limiting facility-to-facility transfers, and other inmate movement, as well as implementing screening, quarantine and isolation procedures.  In addition, we suspended social and legal visits, cancelled staff training and travel, limited access for contractors and volunteers, and established enhanced screening for staff and inmates, including temperature checks.  We began inventorying sanitation, cleaning, and medical supplies and procuring additional supplies of these items.  All of these actions were carried out with the goal of reducing the risk of introducing and spreading the virus inside our facilities.

“All BOP institutions were on enhanced modified operations as of April 1, 2020, under Phase 5 of our action plan found here https://www.bop.gov/resources/news/pdfs/20200331_press_release_action_plan_5.pdf.  This action was taken as a means to further mitigate exposure and spread of COVID-19 at the facility.  Enhanced modified operations are not a lockdown, but rather a means to minimize inmate movement, to minimize congregate gathering, and maximize social distancing among the inmate population.  Under enhanced modified operations, inmates are limited in their movements within the institution, with inmate movement in small numbers authorized for access to Commissary, laundry, showers, telephone and electronic messaging access, medical and mental health care, and some essential work details or work assignments.  Symptomatic inmates are not placed on any work details or work assignments.  Just like in communities nationwide who have been required to shelter-in-place, the BOP implemented this course of action to mitigate the spread of the virus.

“As of April 13, 2020, Phase 6 of our action plan found here https://www.bop.gov/resources/news/pdfs/20200414_press_release_action_plan_6.pdf, extends enhanced modified operations under Phase 5 until May 18, 2020.

“With respect to inmate movement generally, BOP movement nationwide is down 95% from this time last year, and this is directly a result of steps we have taken as we have implemented our COVID-19 pandemic plan.  However, the BOP is required to accept inmates awaiting trial remanded to our custody.  We must also accept newly-convicted inmates for service of their sentence.  This requirement is based in federal statute (see the Bail Reform Act, Title 18 U.S.C. § 3141); if a federal judge orders a pre-trial offender to be detained, the Federal government, which includes BOP facilities, must assume custody and care of the inmate.  To be clear, while the BOP can control and limit its intra-agency movements, we have no authority to refuse inmates brought to us by the US Marshals Service.

“Effective March 26, the BOP issued guidance that all newly admitted inmates into the BOP were screened and temperature checked by employees wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), to include surgical masks, face shields/goggles, gloves, and gowns in accordance with CDC guidance.  If an inmate is asymptomatic, they are placed in quarantine for a minimum of 14 days.  If symptomatic for COVID-19, the inmate must be placed in isolation until they test negative for COVID-19 or are cleared by medical staff as meeting CDC criteria for release from isolation.  All institutions have areas set aside for quarantining and isolation.  Symptomatic or positive staff self-quarantine at their homes.  Inmates are treated at the institution unless medical staff determine they require hospitalization.  All symptomatic inmates are treated per CDC guidelines.

“Staff, contractors, and other visitors to the institution also must undergo a screening and temperature check by a staff member or contractor wearing appropriate PPE prior to entering the facility, with those who register a temperature of 100.4° Fahrenheit or higher denied access to the building.  As much as possible, staff are being assigned to the same posts and not rotating, as an additional measure to mitigate the spread of the virus.

“For those staff that are presenting with symptoms or have been identified as a close contact of a COVID-19 diagnosed individual, given the critical role our staff play with regard to public safety, we have developed a letter for staff who are in close contact of a COVID-19 positive individual to provide to the local Health Department, to ensure such persons receive priority COVID-19 testing.

“All inmates releasing or transferring from BOP facilities to the community will be placed in quarantine for 14 days prior to their scheduled departure from the institution. This includes but is not limited to Full Term releases, Good Conduct Time releases, releases to detainers, furloughs, and transfers to Residential Reentry Centers (RRC’s or halfway houses) or home confinement.  If an inmate is in isolation on their release date, the institution will notify the local health authorities in the location where the inmate is releasing.  Institution staff may also coordinate with local Health Department authorities to minimize exposure with the public upon release.  Transportation that will minimize exposure will be used, with an emphasis on transportation by family and friends, and inmates will be supplied a cloth facial covering to wear.

“As a nationwide system, we are able to leverage and transfer resources from institutions without incidences of COVID-19 to institutions with greater need.  Soap is available throughout the institutions and in cells, and is made available in common areas of each facility (e.g., restrooms, work sites).  In addition to providing hand soap in common areas and to indigent inmates who do not have the means to purchase soap, individual bars of soap are available as needed for the inmate population, or can be purchased for personal use in the inmate commissary if an inmate prefers.  Inmates have been educated on CDC guidelines for hand washing, coughing/sneezing in a sleeve or tissue, and no physical contact.  Additionally, staff, including all executive staff and department heads, are making frequent rounds throughout housing units, door-to-door, conducting wellness checks, and if an inmate reports feeling ill, he/she is immediately screened by health services personnel.  Inmates presenting as symptomatic are isolated in accordance with CDC and public health directives.

“Sanitation efforts continue across all institutions, including FMC Lexington.  All cleaning, sanitation, and medical supplies have been inventoried at the BOP’s facilities, and currently an ample supply is on hand and ready to be distributed or moved to any facility as deemed necessary.  As the COVID-19 outbreak continues to evolve, the BOP updates and refines its recommendations based on CDC guidance, and protocols, and will continue to provide helpful information to staff, inmates and federal, state and local partners.

“The BOP has PPE supplies and is utilizing them in accordance with CDC guidance.   As has been made clear by the CDC (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/ppe-strategy/index.html), supplies of PPE and prudence dictates that equipment is used to optimize the limited supply available in both the private and public sectors.

“Guidance as to where and when PPE such as N95 masks should be worn have been provided to all sites, is consistent with CDC guidance, and depends on several factors, including whether or not an institution has an active case and each employee’s job description.  As noted in guidance from the CDC and OSHA, there are several types of respiratory masks as well as surgical face masks; certain masks are appropriate and effective in certain scenarios and not in others.  Some scenarios would require an employee to wear the N95 mask, whereas it would not be necessary in other cases.  Guidance on what types of PPE are necessary and under what circumstances is available here www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/ppe-strategy/index.html.  Staff working in areas of isolation and quarantining are required to wear full PPE.

“In response to the April 3rd updated guidance from the CDC, we issued surgical masks to everyone – staff and inmates – in our prisons.  Federal Prison Industries (FPI, or Unicor) factories have begun production on cloth face coverings for our staff and inmate population, non-surgical medical gowns for medical facilities, and packaging hand sanitizer for use within the BOP and other agencies.  We will distribute the cloth face coverings as they are produced to preserve surgical masks for quarantine and screening purposes with the goal being, consistent with CDC guidance, to limit transmission of coronavirus by “asymptomatic” or “pre-symptomatic” persons when social distancing cannot be achieved.

“For more information about COVID-19, to include the BOP’s COVID-19 Action Plan, the official number of COVID-19 related deaths, and the number of open, positive test, COVID-19 cases for staff and inmates, please visit the BOP’s Coronavirus resource page on our public website here https://www.bop.gov/coronavirus/index.jsp.

“Due to the rapidly evolving nature of this public health crisis, the BOP will update the open COVID-19 confirmed positive test numbers and the number of COVID-19 related deaths daily at 3:00 p.m.  The positive test numbers are based on the most recently available confirmed lab results involving open cases from across the agency as reported by the BOP’s Office of Occupational Health and Safety.  The number of open positive test cases only reflects current cases that have not been resolved.

“The total number of open, positive test, COVID-19 cases fluctuates up and down as new cases are added and resolved cases are removed.

“While a prison setting is unique when addressing a pandemic, the care and treatment of an identified positive COVID-19 case is not.  The Bureau of Prisons follows CDC guidance the same as community doctors and hospitals with regard to quarantine and isolation procedures, along with providing appropriate treatment.  The majority of inmates who tested positive COVID-19 are not exhibiting the outward symptoms or ill-effects, and do not require hospitalization.  Specifically, asymptomatic (positive with no symptoms) inmates are quarantined per CDC guidance, and do not require the level of care offered in a hospital setting.  Inmates who are symptomatic (positive with symptoms) are isolated and provided medical care in accordance with CDC guidance.  Symptomatic inmates, whose condition rises to the level of acute medical care, will be transferred to a hospital setting; either at a local hospital, or at an institution’s hospital care unit, if they have one.

“When a COVID-19 related inmate death occurs, and next of kin have been notified, additional information will be posted to our public website found here https://www.bop.gov/resources/press_releases.jsp.  Please note that the situation is very fluid and we are constantly updating this information.  We recommend you visit the site frequently.

“We understand these are stressful times for both staff and inmates.  The local Crisis Support Team (CST) has been activated at many BOP facilities, checking on the welfare of staff.  On Friday, April 3, 2020, BOP activated a nationwide 24-hour support line for all staff.  The support line offers an outlet for staff to openly and anonymously discuss their concerns, receive support and engage in problem solving.  The Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which is offered in coordination with Federal Occupational Health in the Department of Health and Human Services, is also available to staff.  EAP provides free confidential counseling services via licensed, certified professional counselors.  EAP services are available 24 hours a day for staff and their families.

“We are deeply concerned for the health and welfare of those inmates who are entrusted to our care, and for our staff, their families, and the communities we live and work in.  It is our highest priority to continue to do everything we can to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in our facilities.”