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Containing COVID-19 Outbreak At SCI Huntingdon, Preventing Spread Outside The Prison Is A “Battle”

The gym at SCI Huntingdon has been converted to an infirmary that houses inmates who have tested positive for COVID-19.
Pennsylvania Department of Corrections
The gym at SCI Huntingdon has been converted to an infirmary that houses inmates who have tested positive for COVID-19.

The State Correctional Institution at Huntingdon reported Tuesday that 136 inmates and 38 staff have tested positive for COVID-19, the largest number among all Pennsylvania state prisons. 

Statewide, 202 inmates and 142 state prison employees have tested positive, according to the DOC. The department began a statewide inmate quarantine in March and said it has implemented temperature checks for anyone entering state prisons and improved on the turnaround time of test results, which is now within 24 hours.

Since the number of cases started increasing at SCI Huntingdon, the department converted the prison’s gym into an infirmary where inmates with COVID-19 are treated. 

State Representative Rich Irvin, R-Huntingdon, said he believes the department and the staff there are doing the best they can to slow the spread, but concerns the virus will spread to the outside community remain.

“Many of those employees have already taken those precautions, whether they're pitching a tent in their backyard or staying in a camper right outside, to stop that spread from their family and protect their families at home,” Irvin said. 

The DOH reported Tuesday there are 190 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Huntingdon County, where SCI Huntingdon inmates are residents. 

“As far as disinfecting goes and everything of that nature, they're using everything within their means to do it. I know the Department of Health and the Department of Corrections are working together and trying to mitigate that spread. But, it is definitely a battle,” Irvin said.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf said in a press conference Monday that the state is conducting population-wide testing at SCIs Huntingdon and Phoenix, where outbreaks have happened but his office later said that’s not the case. 

“As Dr. Levine has said about population testing, it would be very challenging in terms of testing resources to be able to test every inmate in a correctional facility,” a spokeswoman for Wolf said in an email statement. 

The DOC said symptomatic inmates are tested and isolated.

Min Xian reported at WPSU from 2016-2022.
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