SOUTHAMPTON COUNTY, Va. (NewsNation Now) — A lack of personal protective equipment, unsanitary conditions and a staffing shortage are just some of the alarming claims from corrections officers at a state prison in Southampton County, Virginia.
Roughly a dozen inmates at Deerfield Correctional Center have died and more than 700 have tested positive for coronavirus. Just under 30 employees are infected with the virus.
“They’re not cleaning properly,” said one officer.
Half a dozen officers spoke exclusively with NewsNation affiliate WRIC about their concerns with the deadly COVID-19 outbreak inside the state prison. WRIC is protecting the officers’ identities out of fear of retaliation.
The officers allege the Virginia Department of Corrections isn’t taking proper steps to contain the virus. They back up claims from inmates that coronavirus-positive prisoners are constantly being shifted throughout the facility.
“They just keep moving them around from unit to unit. To me, they are just cross-contaminating,” an employee said.
Earlier this week, the state’s Corrections Department reported, “Personal protective equipment is readily available for offenders and staff.” In a statement, DOC also said “more than 1150 KN/N95 masks have been distributed.”
However, corrections officers said PPE only arrived recently.
“When the breakout first started, we did not have it,” said one officer.
Another told WRIC that he was forced to work in a coronavirus-positive pod for several days with just a cloth mask he had to purchase himself.
“I worked in that red zone for a few days without a proper mask. I was never issued a KN95 mask,” he said.
DOC also said replacements are available upon request. Yet, corrections officers said that’s not what supervisors told them.
“We have been instructed you can only get one,” said a worker.
In addition, the officers claim they’re given paper gowns to wear and told to reuse them day after day.
“They are not reusable gowns. They are disposable gowns,” an officer said.
Another officer told WRIC they worried that they’re walking around with contaminated equipment.
“We need fresh PPE every day, we need gowns to change,” the employee said.
The department said it’s following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and working with the Virginia Department of Health to reduce the spread of the virus among a highly vulnerable population.
DOC has said additional nursing staff has been hired to support existing staff.
In a statement, the department said, “The VADOC’s medical directors and other leadership staff in the Health Services Unit conduct daily calls with Armor Correctional Heath Services and Virginia Department of Health representatives to discuss the department’s response at Deerfield. The department has taken a comprehensive approach to mitigate the spread of the virus and effectively monitor and treat those infected at Deerfield.”
Yet, the corrections officers said there’s not enough staff. They said with dozens of workers out sick, safety and security is at risk.
“In my personal opinion, it is dangerously short,” an officer said.