MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The Alabama Department of Corrections doesn’t yet have a plan for how to deal with coronavirus in state prisons, according to the department.
“The ADOC will work with the ADPH and other state agencies to develop our Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP), as the Department has in previous years in formulating our pandemic response,” wrote ADOC spokeswoman Samantha Rose in a statement to APR on Monday, referring to the Alabama Department of Public Health by the acronym “ADPH.”
Former Gov. Bob Riley in 2009 signed a directive that all state departments had to draft a “Continuity of Operations Plan” for how to cope with such health emergencies, called the Pandemic Influenza and All-Hazard COOP Directive.
Rose said in the statement that ADOC is following guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the ADPH to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, and is working in partnership with Gov. Kay Ivey’s newly-formed COVID-19 task force to “ review policies, procedures, and containment protocols specific to this issue.”
“The Department is taking proactive steps to protect the health and well-being of inmates and staff, including the distribution of educational information on prevention and intervention as well as screening inmates for signs and symptoms of the disease, as recommended by the ADPH,” the statement reads.
Asked to clarify whether the department doesn’t yet have a plan in place to handle a possible outbreak of the virus in state prisons, Rose responded Tuesday morning that the COVID-19 is an evolving situation.
“…the ADOC did not previously have a plan specific to this exact issue, nor did any other public or private entity. The Department is working closely with the below-mentioned agencies and Governor Ivey’s newly announced task force to modify its existing plans appropriately to address the unique nature and potential impact of COVID-19,” Rose said in a message.
Local governments are canceling public gatherings, and universities are calling off overseas travel and sending students home to take classes online, but many also worry that prisons and jails are especially vulnerable.
COVID-19 is known to be able to spread rapidly among people kept in confined spaces, such as cruise ships and nursing homes, and hygiene in prison and jails is often lacking.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) the odds of developing COVID-19 increases for those over the age of 60, and the disease is especially problematic those older people with underlying health problems. Those over 80 are in particular danger of death from COVID-19, according to the WHO.
According to ADOC statistics in December incarcerated people ages 60 and over made up just more than 7 percent of the state’s prison population, with just under 2,000 people ages 60 and over serving time in state facilities.
There were 4,118 people ages 51-60 serving in state prisons in December, according to ADOC’s figures.
“The risk of community spread poses a critical and unique threat to vulnerable populations, including those in our prisons and jails,” Sen. Kamala Harris , D-California, wrote in a letter to the Federal Bureau of Prisons on March 5.
Prisons in China are grappling with a coronavirus outbreak. More than 500 prisoners last week were infected with the virus, according to the Associated Press.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons is screening inmates and staff about whether they’ve traveled to countries with COVID-19 outbreaks, or been around anyone who’s tested positive, according to The Associated Press.
A District Court judge in New York City on Friday ordered all inmates at a nearby federal jail to be screened, and ordered them not to appear in court if they had temperatures at 100.4 degrees or higher.
Iran has temporarily freed about 70,000 prisoners to combat the spread of the virus, according to the news agency Reuters.