Alaska department reports 2nd inmate death related to virus

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A second inmate at an Alaska prison experiencing a coronavirus outbreak has died from complications related to COVID-19, as the total number of active cases at the state's largest prison has reached 480, the Alaska Department of Corrections said Tuesday.

The 77-year-old with underlying health issues, who was serving sentences for sexual abuse and release violations, died Monday after being taken to a Palmer hospital on Nov. 22, the department said.

It's the second death of an inmate related to COVID-19 that has been reported by the department. The first was last month. In each case, the department declined to release the names of the individuals, citing privacy concerns.

Both were inmates at Goose Creek Correctional Center near Wasilla, which has been experiencing a coronavirus outbreak.

The department said it offered tests to about 1,300 inmates at the prison to try to find undetected cases. Results brought the facility's active case count to 480, with results in 120 cases pending and another roughly 190 inmates considered recovered, the department said.

Sarah Gallagher, a department spokesperson, said it “can only offer and recommend testing" — not require it — but she said there were few refusals to be tested.

The total inmate population at the prison stood at about 1,260 on Tuesday, she said.

In housing units that have had positive tests, those who have tested negative are retested every three days until there are no additional positive results in the unit for 14 days, the department said.

Dr. Robert Lawrence, the department's chief medical officer, said “testing sweeps” provide a picture of spread that has occurred and allow officials to "target isolation and quarantine strategies to particular areas in the facility in order to flatten the curve of the spread.”

Inmate housing is determined by test results and clinical status, and staff members are required to wear masks in the prison and undergo screenings before their shifts, the department said.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness and death.

The Associated Press