Wayne: COVID-19 status check

Prisons add significantly to case numbers

By OWEN WALSH
Posted 12/23/20

WAYNE COUNTY, PA — COVID-19 numbers are at an all-time high for Wayne County. While it can be hard for a small, rural county to trace where the infection is spreading, it’s safe to say …

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Wayne: COVID-19 status check

Prisons add significantly to case numbers

Posted

WAYNE COUNTY, PA — COVID-19 numbers are at an all-time high for Wayne County. While it can be hard for a small, rural county to trace where the infection is spreading, it’s safe to say that a notable portion of Wayne County’s cases are coming from two places: the state and federal prisons.

Though it lagged slightly behind more densely populated parts of the state, Wayne County is consistently reporting its most troubling COVID-19 numbers since the pandemic hit the area last March. Wayne Memorial Hospital has been admitting peak numbers into its COVID-19 wing, local school districts are going virtual through the end of the year—perhaps longer—and major industries throughout the area continue to be shut down or curtailed by restrictions.

As of December 18, when the PA Department of Health last updated its early warning dashboard, Wayne County saw 357 new COVID cases in the most recent seven-day period compared to 214 new cases over the previous seven days. Its positivity rate jumped from 12.1 percent to 20.3 percent over that same time. When looking at these numbers, Wayne County Commissioner Joe Adams said it’s important to keep in mind the inmate populations at State Correctional Institution (SCI) Waymart and United States Penitentiary (USP) Canaan. 

“Eighty-four percent of the positive cases that are attributed to Wayne County are in those two prisons,” Adams said last Friday. “The prisons are extremely well run; it’s just hard to stop [the] spread when you’re in a congregate setting.”

As of Monday, December 21, USP Canaan was reporting 11 active cases among inmates and nine among staff; 145 inmates and 22 staff members have recovered from the virus. According to the PA Department of Corrections (DOC) website data, SCI Waymart was reporting 822 active among inmates and 48 among staff at press time. However, DOC communications director Susan McNaughton told the River Reporter that its dashboard is not accurate, and that SCI Waymart actually had 336 active cases among inmates and 41 cases among staff. She said they are looking into why the numbers are inaccurate.

Wayne County’s correctional facility has had two inmate cases and three staff cases since spring.

For the rest of cases outside of prisons, it can be harder to track down where the spread is occurring. For example, the convenience store Turkey Hill on Main Street in Honesdale recently closed for a number of days. Unofficially, an employee told the River Reporter that the closure was COVID-related. Officially, the River Reporter called the store’s corporate headquarters to try and confirm the information and find out when any exposures may have taken place. The paper was provided with no comment.

At www.minimart.com, there is a list of Turkey Hill locations that have closed due to COVID-19. The Honesdale location is not included in that list.

Things happen differently across the river, where Sullivan County Public Health Services has been putting out regular public health advisories about potential exposures in public spaces like restaurants and stores. The advisories report the timeframe in which individuals may have been exposed to the virus in a given public space. But without its own health department like Sullivan County, (and with a $35 million budget compared to Sullivan County’s $225 million budget) Adams said that such advisories are just not feasible in Wayne.

“We don’t have the resources—but it’s not even the resources—because somehow, some way, we would chase down some CARES funding money if we could,” Adams said, “I don’t think we have the capabilities.”

COVID-19 numbers change by the day, sometimes by the hour. For the latest news on COVID-19 in Wayne County, visit www.riverreporter.com/news, or to find the latest data, visit www.health.pa.gov.

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