Sussex inmates with COVID-19 rises to five

Smyrna offender who died found positive after three tests
April 20, 2020

A total of five inmates in Sussex County have tested positive for COVID-19 as the total number across the state rises to 20. An inmate in Smyrna who died April 16 was found positive for COVID-19 after two previous negative test results.

“The Department of Correction is deeply saddened that for the first time COVID has been determined to be a contributing factor in the death of an inmate,” said Commissioner Claire DeMatteis. “This reinforces the critical importance of all of the aggressive, proactive screening, monitoring, cleaning and treatment efforts that are being carried out around the clock at each of our facilities.”

Convicted sex offender Joseph S. Russo, 73, who had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, died in Bayhealth Hospital's Kent Campus after testing negative twice before for COVID-19. After a third test returned positive on April 17, Russo's death was ruled acute respiratory failure due to complications from COPD and COVID-19, officials said.

All five inmates in Sussex County that have tested positive are with Sussex Community Corrections Center in Georgetown. Of the five, three are asymptomatic, said Jason Miller, chief of communications and community relations. These inmates were housed near two inmates who earlier tested positive for COVID-19, he said, and they are part of a group of seven inmates who have been carefully monitored in isolation since April 12.

On April 17, Miller said, the three asymptomatic inmates who tested positive were transported to the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center COVID treatment center. Four inmates who tested negative continue to be carefully monitored in isolation at SCCC, he said.

A correctional officer at SCCC also tested positive for COVID-19 on April 17, bringing the state total of officers with COVID-19 to 18, he said.

DOC continues to take precautions to limit the spread of COVID-19 which include temperature checks, two-week quarantine for new inmates, and providing face masks for officers and more than 500 inmates who are in infirmaries, those with compromised immune systems, and inmates who have institutional jobs, such as food service.

Miller said most probationer visits with probation officers were transitioned to phone check-ins in March to support social distancing measures.

“To date we have contained COVID-19 cases among inmates to one housing unit in one prison and one housing pod in one community corrections facility. Of the 20 inmates who have tested positive, only eight have symptoms, which are being treated with round-the-clock care,” DeMatteis said. “Eleven others are well into recovery or remain asymptomatic.”


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