Coronavirus outbreak at NM prison spreads to staff

16 COs and more than 100 inmates tested positive last week


By Rick Ruggles
The Santa Fe New Mexican
        
ESTANCIA, N.M. — About 16 Torrance County Detention Center staff members have tested positive in a coronavirus outbreak that has infected more than 100 inmates last week, according to CoreCivic, the private company that owns and oversees the facility.

New Mexico Department of Health spokesman David Morgan said 110 detainees had tested positive at the prison by Wednesday. "It is starting to spread to some of the employees of the facility, meaning guards," Morgan said Friday.

CoreCivic declined to provide updated numbers Friday for detainee cases.

Torrance County Detention Center had largely avoided a major coronavirus outbreak until last week.
Torrance County Detention Center had largely avoided a major coronavirus outbreak until last week. (Google Maps)

Ryan Gustin, a Tennessee-based spokesman for CoreCivic, said about 145 employees work at the Torrance County prison in Estancia, which serves federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the U.S. Marshals Service and the Torrance County Sheriff's Office.

Asked when the outbreak started, Gustin said only that his company has "rigorously followed the guidance of local, state and federal health authorities, as well as our government partners. ... The health and safety of the individuals entrusted to our care and our staff is the top priority for CoreCivic."

He said staffers do contact tracing to identify individuals who might have been exposed to the virus. He also said the center's medical staff works with the state Health Department and other government partners to test and vaccinate those at the center.

His company strives "to ensure that the vaccine is allocated to those in our care as quickly as possible," Gustin said.

He did not provide specific data for vaccinated inmates and workers.

Matt Propp, the emergency manager for Torrance County, said CoreCivic hadn't contacted him or the state's public health nurse in that county for help addressing the outbreak.

There have been no COVID-19-related deaths among staffers or detainees at the prison.

More than 42,000 state and federal inmates — 1,273 federal detainees and 2,986 state prisoners — in New Mexico prisons have contracted the virus since the start of the pandemic. There also have been several reported deaths.

But the Torrance County facility had largely avoided a major outbreak until this week. Previously, it reported only 47 infections among federal inmates.

As the virus's spread has slowed in the state and vaccination numbers have increased, there have been few reported cases in detention facilities.

The rate of vaccinations among federal prisoners and workers in federal facilities remains unclear.

The New Mexico Corrections Department reported earlier this month that 51 percent of the state inmate population and 83 percent of prison staff working had received COVID-19 vaccines by then, with a goal of ensuring 100 percent of inmates who want the shots receive them by June 1.

Statewide, more than 65 percent of all residents 16 and older have had at least one shot and 55.3 percent have completed the series, the Health Department reported Friday.
     
(c)2021 The Santa Fe New Mexican (Santa Fe, N.M.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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