Pa. correctional officers' union seeks priority in vaccine distribution

"If nothing changes, at this rate, our staff won't have enough people to do their jobs in some prisons," a union rep said


By Randy Griffith
The Tribune-Democrat

MARIENVILLE, Pa. — The current COVID-19 outbreak at SCI-Forest pushed tiny Forest County into the nation's top position for cases by population.

It also put a major strain on the correction officers charged with overseeing the prisoners, the guards' union says.

The Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association on Wednesday called on the state to prioritize its members for vaccine distribution.

"Our system has become overrun," union President John Eckenrode said in a press release. "If nothing changes, at this rate, our staff won't have enough people to do their jobs in some prisons.

"This is a health and public safety crisis ... It's time to prioritize vaccinating staff so they can do their jobs and also not worry about bringing the virus home to their loved ones."

The Department of Corrections website shows 940 prisoners at SCI-Forest are currently "positive" for the novel coronavirus, with another 197 listed as "recovered." Four inmates have died from complications of COVID-19.

Forest County's population is 7,173, including almost 2,300 inmates.

In this region, SCI-Somerset has 618 inmates listed as "positive" and 613 "recovered." Four inmate deaths have been associated with COVID-19.

SCI-Laurel Highlands has 527 positives, 490 recovered and 11 inmate deaths.

The prison surges have pushed Somerset County's case counts for several weeks.

Five additional COVID-19 deaths in Somerset County led the region in Wednesday's update by the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

The deaths were among 222 statewide, putting Pennsylvania's total to 21,105 deaths attributed to COVID-19 since the pandemic struck in March.

Westmoreland and Centre counties were back in triple digits for new COVID-19 infections among 5,874 additional positive cases statewide, bringing Pennsylvania's total to 818,369.

Wednesday's report continued a 16-day decline in the rolling seven-day average of new cases. The average reached 5,028 cases a day.

Cambria County had 49 new cases and two COVID-19 deaths, bringing the county's totals to 10,636 cases and 360 deaths.

Somerset County had 44 new cases and five deaths to reach 6,232 cases and 171 deaths.

Bedford County had 42 cases and one death to reach 3,574 cases and 119 deaths.

Blair County had 43 new cases and two deaths to reach 9,785 cases and 240 deaths.

Indiana County had 19 new cases with no deaths to reach 4,710 cases and 146 deaths.

Clearfield County had 43 new cases and four deaths to reach 2,438 cases and 94 deaths.

Centre County had 124 new cases and two deaths to reach 10,848 cases and 188 deaths.

Westmoreland County had 141 new cases and three deaths to reach 24,368 cases and 579 deaths.

With fewer new cases, the state's estimated recovery proportion has rebounded to 80% of all cases. The estimated considers all those who tested positive more than 30 days ago as recovered, with deaths removed from the total.

The estimate means that more the 650,000 COVID-19 patients have recovered.

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(c)2021 The Tribune-Democrat (Johnstown, Pa.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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