Drugs in Prison

The cafeteria at the Idaho State Correctional Center, Thursday, July 18, 2019.

The Idaho Department of Correction on Wednesday announced the first case of COVID-19 in an inmate in its custody.

Corrections Director Josh Tewalt confirmed the case in an open letter on a website tab set up in March to help detail the department’s response to the presence of the virus in the state. The person is imprisoned in the Idaho State Correctional Center just south of Boise, and first started showing symptoms on Tuesday, according to the letter.

In response, the facility has been placed on full secure status, Tewalt wrote.

“All movement into, out of, and within the facility is restricted while an investigation is underway,” Tewalt wrote. “The investigation will determine what areas beyond the individual’s tier will need to be quarantined. Additionally, staff who may have had contact with the individual also are being notified.”

In the past 10 days, 44 of the department’s staff members have been unable to show up for work because of a potential exposure to the virus, Tewalt wrote in a separate letter, also posted Wednesday. Eighteen of those employees had possibly been exposed within the last three days, he wrote.

Additionally, two staff members at the Idaho State Correctional Institution also tested positive for the disease, as well as one at the Idaho State Correctional Center on the same campus near Kuna. Those prisons are two of six correction facilities on Pleasant Valley Road.

The news comes two days after Central District Health officials announced they would be moving Ada County back into Stage 3 of reopening, after coronavirus cases started to skyrocket earlier this month.

Thus far, while a small number of staff members had tested positive for the illness, it was not believed they spread the virus to others, and the disease had stayed out of the prison population itself.

In a written statement Wednesday, Gov. Brad Little pointed out Idaho is one of the last states to have a confirmed case of COVID-19 in its prison population, and thus department officials have had time to prepare for a positive test.

“The health and safety of the inmates in the state’s custody, as well as the state employees who work with them, is paramount,” the governor’s statement reads. “I am confident that the plan IDOC has in place will meet the health and safety needs of all at IDOC.”

“We’ve been fortunate to avoid this situation until now,” Tewalt wrote in the letter. “It’s early in the investigation process, but we’ll share more information when the extent of the potential exposure is better known.”