I-Team: Nevada prison inmates among first to get COVID-19 vaccine

I-Team Special Reports

More than 2,000 inmates, 20% of population, tests positive since start of pandemic

LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — More than 11,000 inmates in the Nevada Department of Corrections and facility staff will get the COVID-19 vaccine before most of the population, documents show.

COVID-19 has exploded in Nevada prisons over the past three months, with case reports surging past 500 at two prisons. Since the beginning of the pandemic, 2,442 offenders have tested positive for the virus. Eight have died.

For corrections staff, 561 have tested positive for COVID and two have died, officials with NDOC said Thursday. The numbers are up-to-date as of Tuesday. As of Thursday, 1,624 inmates and 205 staff are currently positive with the virus.

The case totals are in stark contrast to reports from mid-September. As of Wednesday, the Warm Springs Correctional Center in Carson City reported 470 inmates and 65 staff members testing positive. The total number of cases three months ago was three.

At the Northern Nevada Correctional Center, also in Carson City, five inmates have died. Cases have grown from five to 502 since mid-September, data shows.

The I-Team has repeatedly asked NDOC for information about its COVID policies and how it was mitigating the spread of the virus. It was not until Thursday, during a public meeting, that some questions were answered.

NDOC officials said offenders are being separated into COVID-positive, COVID-negative and COVID-exposed units. NDOC Director Charles Daniels said the department is just now starting weekly testing. He said during a state COVID-19 Task Force meeting that some staff spread the virus to inmates, though he did not say that outright.

“As the test started to come back, we started to see those numbers elevate and go higher and higher, and then as such, because our inmates typically didn’t go anywhere, they remained confined — our numbers started going up as well for the inmates,” Daniels said.

According to the state’s vaccine playbook, corrections staff will be among the first to get the COVID-19 vaccine, followed by inmates. Staff are listed in the first tier of vaccinations; inmates in the second.

State officials said they were following federal protocol for who gets the vaccine first. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices lists prisoners among those living in congregate, meaning they are susceptible to getting sick.

According to a recent report from Johns Hopkins University and cited by the CDC, incarcerated individuals are at a high risk for infection and transmission.

Due to that increased risk, inmates will be vaccinated before Nevadans with underlying health conditions, those older than 65 and healthy people between the ages of 16 and 65.

NDOC officials did not respond to a request for a more precise timeline.

Several families have reached out to the I-Team about conditions inside state prisons, saying inmates are being kept isolated in inhumane conditions.

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