Clallam Bay prison outbreak grows to 160-plus cases

Staff aren’t consistently wearing masks, health officer says

The COVID-19 outbreak at Clallam Bay Corrections Center doesn’t show signs of significantly slowing down, the North Olympic Peninsula health officer said.

The outbreak, which began in early August with five staff members, has grown to a total of 55 staff members and 107 inmates as of Saturday, according to the state Department of Corrections (DOC) dashboard.

The inmates at Clallam Bay Corrections Center (CBCC) have a higher rate of fully vaccinated individuals than those on staff at the prison, according to the DOC dashboard.

As of Saturday, 56.74 percent of the Clallam Bay staff were not vaccinated, 40.93 percent were fully vaccinated and 2.33 percent were partially vaccinated, the DOC data said.

For inmates, 47.46 were not vaccinated as of Saturday, while 50.39 percent of inmates were fully vaccinated and 2.16 percent were partially vaccinated, according to DOC data.

Dr. Allison Berry, health officer for Clallam and Jefferson counties, said there has been an uptick in vaccination demand by facility staff this week, as the deadline for receiving either the second dose of Pfizer’s or Moderna’s vaccines — or receiving Johnson & Johnson’s single dose vaccine — is Monday in order to be in compliance with Gov. Jay Inslee’s mandate that all state workers be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18.

The updated numbers in regard to vaccination levels and other data will be updated on the DOC’s dashboard next week, as it’s updated weekly.

Rachel Ericson, deputy communications director for the DOC, said via email Tuesday that no inmates at Clallam Bay have been hospitalized due to the COVID-19 outbreak, but three staff members have been.

The facility separates healthy inmates from exposed and sick inmates as part of its outbreak plans, Ericson said.

“Clallam Bay Corrections Center, like all Washington State correctional and work release facilities, follows the WA State DOC COVID-19 Screening, Testing and Infection Control Guidelines protocols to safely house COVID-19-positive incarcerated individuals separately from healthy individuals,” Ericson wrote. “When incarcerated individuals notify staff of COVID-like symptoms, staff follow the appropriate protocols immediately to ensure the health and safety of those in our custody.”

State regulations for the facilities require staff and inmates to wear face masks when in rooms with other people.

However, Berry said she’s received reports that mask-wearing among staff members has been intermittent. Those situations, paired with the low vaccination rate among staff and inmates, is contributing to the high level of virus spread within the facility, she said.

“Unfortunately, it’s been a challenge to get prison workers to wear masks consistently,” Berry said.

Ericson did not return phone calls Thursday from the Peninsula Daily News for further comment regarding the prevention protocols.

There has been pushback on vaccinations at the facility — the specific numbers of people were not provided — and DOC officials provided inmates and staff with educational materials, answers to frequently asked questions and other media to try to encourage those who were hesitant to get vaccinated, Ericson said.

Berry also noted that the outbreak at CBCC is bleeding into the community, as unvaccinated infected staff members return home and infect household members and others, and she has been getting reports of visitation continuing at the facility, which can lead to other exposures, she said.

The first unit of the jail, where large numbers of COVID-19 cases were found among inmates, was the G Unit, where 22 inmates tested positive, leading officials to test everyone in the facility. When that occurred, 16 additional cases were found, according to a memorandum written by Superintendent Jeri Boe on Sept. 1.

For an outbreak to be considered over, the facility has to go two weeks without a new COVID-19 case, Berry said.

More information on the cases, vaccination rates and trends at the CBCC can be found here.

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Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5, or at zjablonski@peninsuladailynews.com.

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