1st Iowa correctional officer dies from COVID-19

"The straw that broke the camel's back is what happened with the passing of a correctional officer," a union rep said


By Erin Jordan
The Gazette

MITCHELLVILLE, Iowa — Iowa had its first death of a prison staff member this week and eight prisoners have died so far of COVID-19 as outbreaks continue at Iowa prison facilities.

"It's a mess," said Danny Homan, president of AFSCME Council 61, which represents correctional workers. "The straw that broke the camel's back is what happened with the passing of a correctional officer."

An officer at the Iowa Correctional Institution at Mitchellville died Monday, according to the Department of Corrections COVID-19 website. This is the first Corrections staff death from the virus. No other details were available about the officer.

Overall, 442 Iowa prison staff have tested positive for COVID-19, with about three-quarters having recovered as of late Thursday. Of the 104 staff who still are sick, 37 are from the Anamosa State Penitentiary, which has been dealing with a major outbreak since early November.

In cases where it's likely an employee has contracted the virus at work, the state allows the employee to use paid administrative leave as opposed to sick or vacation leave, Corrections Spokesman Cord Overton said.

Maintaining adequate staffing has been a challenge during outbreaks, he said.

"As the virus impacts some prison's overall staffing levels, facilities may exercise predeveloped staffing plans to ensure safety of the institution can be maintained even when staffing levels are not ideal," Overton said.

In some cases, the Corrections Department has used temporary staffing companies to supplement regular medical staff at the prisons, he said.

Overall, 3,025 Iowa prison offenders have tested positive for COVID-19, with 536 of those people still positive and 2,489 recovered, the state reported late Thursday. The total number is about 40 percent of the total prison system population of 7,431.

Anamosa had 235 COVID-positive offenders late Thursday. This is about one-quarter of the total population of 968. The prison had 37 staff infected with the disease, the state reported.

Three Anamosa offenders have died this month.

David Allen Streets, 70, died Nov. 8, Jonathan William Strain, 59, died Monday and Robert William Sirovy, 64, died Tuesday. All men died at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, where they had been transferred after their symptoms worsened.

Citing security reasons, Overton would not say how many offenders from Anamosa or overall in the prison system are being treated at hospitals.

"I will tell you that over the last several weeks, the department has typically had between 5 to 15 inmates receiving hospital care at a given time," he said.

The Department has reduced offender transfers in and out of the prisons to prevent new introductions of the virus, Overton said.

But Sue McTaggart says her son, who was an offender at the Anamosa prison, was transferred to Mount Pleasant Correctional Facility earlier this summer to keep the kitchen running, according to a report by Iowa Public Radio. Two dozen more men were transferred from Mount Pleasant to Anamosa this month to help with kitchen work during the outbreak, IPR reported.

Homan said he's been hearing from prison staff about their concerns about the outbreaks in their facilities.

"In our opinion, management within the DOC is doing little to nothing constructive to stop the spread of COVID-19 inside our facilities," he said.

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(c)2020 The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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