(LaPorte, IN) - LaPorte County officials have directly asked the Indiana Department of Correction for accurate information to help keep a mounting number of COVID-19 cases especially at Westville Correctional Center from multiplying outside prison walls.
Conflicting numbers and unreturned data seeking telephone calls to WCC and Indiana State Prison triggered the request made to William Wilson, Northern Regional Director of Adult Facilities for the DOC, during a special meeting Wednesday of the LaPorte County Commissioners.
Commissioner Dr. Vidya Kora said timely and correct information on staff members testing positive allows the LaPorte County Health Department to investigate as quickly as possible who the prison employees have had recent contact with so those individuals can be tested and self-quarantine for 14 days, if necessary, to limit the spread out into the community.
Kora, a board member at Franciscan Health at Michigan City, also said an accurate count of inmates diagnosed with COVID-19 assists to prepare hospitals for a potential surge of patients and gives the public confidence in what’s transpiring inside the prisons.
He specifically asked Wilson to appoint someone at each prison to gather and provide daily updated COVID-19 case data to the LaPorte County Health Department.
“There’s no system there for somebody to communicate to the outside agencies like the LaPorte County Health Department so what we are trying to do is create the system for them. It’s not that they don’t want to cooperate. They have no system and they’re in the midst of outbreaks and they’re all kind of running ragged,” Kora said.
Wilson said there were 129 offenders and 18 staff members as of Wednesday testing positive for COVID-19 at the Westville prison.
He said another 26 inmates showing symptoms at Westville are in isolation.
Confining all of the over 3,000 inmates at the prison to their housing units are among the restrictions in place at Westville. .
“The facility is basically on lock down ,” Wilson said.
Wilson said he didn’t have any figures from Indiana State Prison.
According to the IDOC webpage, just one ISP inmate had tested positive.
The website also revealed 101 staff members in all state correctional facilities were diagnosed with COVID-19.
Where the workers testing positive are employed was not posted.
Kora said the information he received, though, shows infections in five ISP staff members.
“It has been kind of hit and miss so we want it consistent,” he said.
According to Wilson, positive case figures from each prison go directly to the Indiana State Department of Health at the direction of ISDH Commissioner Kristina Box.
He offered no answers on why the figures the LaPorte County Health Department obtained from the ISDH and the prisons were different.
“I’m not sure about the disconnect,” he said.
Wilson also said he will pursue the request for improved communication with the medical supervisors at the prisons.
“I’ll make sure that we have an opportunity to report those numbers to you as we are with the Indiana State Department of Health,” he said.
He said hospitals in LaPorte, Porter and St. Joseph counties have been contacted for bed space if the need arises to such a level.
Another example of discrepancy in data is ISDH reporting 146 positive test results Wednesday in LaPorte County.
The total should be much higher when adding the 55 cases reported by the LaPorte County Health Department from the general public to the number of infections at the prisons. .
Commissioner Sheila Matias said insisting on correction information was not asking too much especially with the risks involved with prisons during a pandemic.
“People in our community work there and they’re coming back into our community day in and day so it is our obligation for the health department to know what’s going on,” she said.