UMATILLA COUNTY — The two state prisons located within Umatilla County continue to report additional cases of COVID-19, with a combined total of 357 cases between them as of Wednesday, Sept. 9.
Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution has reported 266 cases of the virus among its roughly 1,700 inmates, including an additional 24 staff members who have tested positive. According to the Oregon Department of Corrections, EOCI trails only Snake River Correctional Institution in Ontario, which has reported 467 total cases as of Sept. 9, for the largest virus outbreak within the state’s prisons.
The Oregon Department of Corrections has also reported the death of three inmates at EOCI, who tested positive for COVID-19.
Two Rivers Correctional Institution in Umatilla has reported 41 cases among its nearly 1,800 inmates and have confirmed 26 cases among its employees.
While both facilities are still home to active outbreaks, the two have reported drastically different positive test rates of those incarcerated in the county. Roughly 47% of the inmates tested at EOCI have been confirmed positive, compared with just over 5% who have tested positive at TRCI.
State health officials have said these case numbers and positive test rates “won’t routinely be excluded” from county metrics that are used to determine whether the rest of the community can reopen certain businesses or return to in-person education.
As more cases come in, prison officials called a potential measure like large-scale testing events of inmates “impractical.”
“The availability of tests and the timely processing of them makes large-scale or institution wide events impractical,” Ron Miles, an EOCI spokesperson, stated in a Sept. 9 email. “A single institution would flood the local testing companies, using all of the local resources for an extended period of time, rendering these companies unable to help local hospitals and clinics.”
Those incarcerated at EOCI largely live in dormitory settings within cells 8-by-12 feet in size, though Miles stated that some are larger because the prison was initially built as a hospital. Meanwhile, inmates at TRCI live in cells that are 6 feet 9 inches by 11 feet in size.
Tight living quarters and facilities unfit for a pandemic is what led the Oregon Department of Corrections to tell Gov. Kate Brown that roughly 40% of the state’s prison population would need to be released to allow for social distancing within them.
Brown responded by commuting the sentences of 57 inmates in June, less than 1% of the prison population, and she is again considering the release of up to 400 inmates who may be medically vulnerable to the virus or within two months of release.
A letter Brown sent the Oregon Department of Corrections requested prison officials identify these inmates by Sept. 18 for her to review.
Two more deaths reported
The Umatilla County Public Health Department this week also reported the 40th and 41st death of county residents who tested positive for the virus.
According to a press release, the 40th death was a 68-year-old male who tested positive for the virus on June 23 and died at a private residence on July 16. The 41st death was a 97-year-old female at Regency Hermiston Nursing and Rehabilitation Center who tested positive on July 16 and died on Tuesday, Sept. 8.
Umatilla County reported 36 total cases of the virus on Sept. 8 from over the Labor Day weekend, and another six cases were reported on Sept. 9. The county has reported 2,802 total cases of the virus, 149 presumptive of which are considered presumptive, and five people confirmed with the virus are currently hospitalized.