Pa. inmates making masks, soap, disinfectant to slow spread of COVID-19

Inmates have produced nearly 200,000 cloth masks that are to be worn by prison employees and inmates

By Mark Pesto
The Tribune-Democrat

CAMP HILL, Pa. — Pennsylvania state prison inmates have produced nearly 200,000 cloth masks that are to be worn by prison employees and inmates during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Corrections said Tuesday.

Corrections Secretary John Wetzel in mid-March directed all DOC employees and inmates to wear masks, a measure recommended by state and national health officials to slow the spread of COVID-19.

As a result, Pennsylvania Correctional Industries, the DOC bureau that employs inmates to produce various products that are sold to nonprofits and government bodies around the state, retooled production at its garment factories to focus on making cloth masks.

“We didn’t want to take from the community supply,” Wetzel said, “so we began making the masks in-house at several of our state prisons.”

Since March 17, inmates have made a total of 185,136 masks, many of which have been or will be distributed to all DOC facilities and offices, including parole agents’. DOC employees have been provided with three masks each, and each inmate has received two masks, the DOC says.

In addition, over the past weekend, some of the masks were shipped to other essential state employees at the request of Gov. Tom Wolf’s office, Wetzel said.

Inmates are working 12-hour shifts, six days a week, to produce the masks and other coronavirus-related items, including 36,000 bars of antibacterial soap, 255 gowns and 1,620 packs of disinfectant per day, according to the DOC.

As of Tuesday afternoon, five inmates in the state prison system have tested positive for COVID-19, all at SCI-Phoenix in Montgomery County. No inmate at any other state prison has been confirmed to have the virus, although SCI-Houtzdale in southern Clearfield County had a false positive case in early April. Thirty inmates have tested negative for the virus, including one at SCI-Somerset and two at SCI-Laurel Highlands.

Also, 16 DOC employees have self-reported positive test results – four at SCI-Phoenix; three at SCI-Retreat near Wilkes-Barre, currently the DOC’s sole intake and initial quarantine facility for new male inmates and parole violators; two each at SCI-Camp Hill and SCI-Chester; and one each at SCI-Fayette, SCI-Smithfield, SCI-Waymart, an unspecified parole office and the DOC’s central office in Mechanicsburg.

Seventy-one more have reported testing negative.

A quarantine of the state prison system has been in effect since March 29.


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