Pa. county prison staff, inmates now wearing masks

Inmates at Cambria County Prison are required to wear masks at all items, except when they're in their cells

By Mark Pesto
The Tribune-Democrat

CAMBRIA COUNTY, Pa. — Inmates and employees at Cambria County Prison are now wearing cloth masks in an attempt to help slow the spread of COVID-19, Warden Christian Smith said at Wednesday’s meeting of the Cambria County Prison Board.

Several prison employees who know how to sew volunteered to make the 600 or so masks that have been distributed to other employees and to inmates, the warden said.

Inmates are required to wear masks at all items, except when they’re in their cells.

“It’s kind of weird,” Smith said. “Up until now, it’s been a misconduct for a mask in jail – to wear a face covering. Now, we’re issuing them to wear. It’s the complete opposite of what standard practice is in prisons.”

Smith said after the meeting that there were no confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19 among inmates or employees at the prison as of Wednesday morning. One inmate was tested for the virus after developing a fever, but the test results came back negative, he said.

That inmate has since been released.

Smith updated the members of the prison board on how prison staff are handling the ongoing pandemic.

He said he and other top prison officials have spent “pretty much the entire last month” preparing the institution.

The prison’s medical provider, PrimeCare Medical, is able to test for COVID-19 on-site if the prison has a potential positive case, Smith said, “so we don’t have to figure out testing location, trying to get him to the hospital.”

A policy restricting entry of all visitors, volunteers and program instructors to the prison and suspending all inmate group activities has been in place since March 13.

Among the other pandemic-related procedures and procedures now in place at the prison are:

  • The number of inmates permitted at any one table is limited.
  • Hand sanitizer dispensers have been placed throughout the prison, including at officer posts and in locker rooms, meeting areas and the lobby.
  • To compensate for the restriction on personal visitors, inmates are being issued free envelopes and paper, and the prison’s phone vendor, GTL, is providing two free phone calls per inmate per week.
  • All pandemic-related costs incurred by the prison are being tracked and documented in case the county is able to receive reimbursement later.


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