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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Washington state’s worst prison COVID-19 outbreak is in Franklin County – inmates and staff sickened

By Cameron Probert Tri-City Herald

PASCO – The Coyote Ridge Corrections Center north of the Tri-Cities is in the midst of the biggest COVID outbreak in the Washington state prison system.

The state Department of Corrections reported Friday that 186 of the 199 active cases in all of the state’s prisons are currently at the Connell facility.

Also, seven of the 32 cases among Washington prison employees statewide work there.

In the past 30 days, 20% of the Connell prison’s 1,800 inmates have tested positive for COVID, said prison officials. The highest number of infections, however, was a few weeks earlier in mid-January, according to state data.

The Connell site also has had one of the highest number of COVID-related inmate deaths in Washington.

Since the start of the pandemic 17 prison inmates have died statewide, most of them in Eastern Washington facilities.

Coyote Ridge and the Stafford Creek prisons have had five confirmed COVID inmate deaths each, Airway Heights near Spokane reported four deaths and the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla had two deaths.

Four prison employees have died from COVID, including three at Stafford Creek in Aberdeen and one at Monroe, show state reports.

Connell outbreak

The outbreak in Connell has put inmate pods in three housing units into quarantine, according to a memo sent to prisoners at the facility. The three medium security units affected – B, D and E – have been closed to visitors.

The quarantined areas are continuing to be routinely tested twice a week, said the state.

“Corrections is committed to everyone’s safety,” the department said in a March 29 memo. “We will continue to communicate with you as we progress through this pandemic.”

The medium and minimum security prison can house up to 2,300 but has been averaging about 1,800 for months.

To date, the prison reported 1,357 inmates have been sickened by COVID and 530 employees.

This week, the prison in Walla Walla reported two inmates sick with COVID and two prison employees.

Since the start of the pandemic the maximum security facility has had 2,118 inmates and 688 staff infected.

This is the second wave of the omicron variant to hit the prison since it reached the Tri-City area in early January.

This second wave in Benton and Franklin counties has not been as strong as the first wave of the disease.

The highest weekly numbers show 195 new cases being reported during the week of March 13, compared to 249 during the week of Jan. 16.

Though the omicron variant hit the prison harder than any previous version of the virus.

The state agency reported that 10,920 incarcerated individuals had received at least one dose of the vaccine in prison.