DANVILLE — Nearly 30 percent of prisoners at the Danville Correctional Center currently have COVID-19, according to the Illinois Department of Corrections.
As of Thursday, there were 463 active cases among inmates and 51 among staff. And the numbers have been growing rapidly among inmates. The previous Thursday, there were 127 active cases among inmates, and at the beginning of December, there were 13.
While other prisons across the state reported outbreaks in the spring and summer, the Danville prison didn’t list a positive case among its inmates until mid-November. Rebecca Ginsburg, the director of the Education Justice Project at the University of Illinois, said Danville’s recent spike is likely because of a new testing protocol from the Illinois Department of Corrections, not because of a new outbreak.
“It’s not that there weren’t any cases earlier. It’s that they weren’t testing,” Ginsburg said. “There’s no way that their numbers were zero until Thanksgiving.”
The Danville prison administered 86 tests to inmates as of Dec. 3, 316 as of Dec. 18 and 2,553 as of Thursday. On Dec. 21, the number of active cases jumped by nearly 300 after 1,473 tests were reported.
“The facility activated its incident command center and is utilizing FEMA’s National Incident Management System to set and achieve aggressive objectives each day,” the IDOC said in a statement provided by Greg Runyan. “Beginning December 16, 2020, all staff and individuals in custody at Danville (are being) tested approximately every three days until no new cases are identified for 14 days.”
After that, the prison will use surveillance testing based on the test positivity rate in Vermilion County. State prisons have suspended visits since March and have limited movement within the prisons.
“Each facility has a designated safety officer who works to ensure all staff are wearing PPE appropriately and practicing social distancing,” according to the prison’s statement.
Ginsburg praised the prison warden, Kim Larson, for her handling of the pandemic.
“I know the warden has been extremely conscientious and serious about the threat this pandemic poses,” Ginsburg said.
But she’s still worried about the inmates. While many who are infected have no symptoms, “many people who get it feel as sick as a dog,” Ginsburg said. And the “holidays are always a difficult time for those in prison,” she said. With no in-person visits since March, “they’re alone, missing their families and feeling anxious about their families.”