CHESAPEAKE, Va. - News 3 is investigating claims that local correctional facilities aren't doing enough to protect inmates from the coronavirus.
The Virginia Department of Corrections said they are working around the clock to identify and provide care during this pandemic, while families disagree.
After phone calls with their loved ones, countless families told News 3 that offenders who have tested positive for COVID-19 are being placed in pods with others who have tested negative and because of that it's putting everyone at risk.
"It hurts to know that your brother is calling you and telling you 'brother I can't breathe, brother my breathing is changing, I don't feel normal [and] nobody's taking precautions.' That bothers me a lot," said a man named Gerard.
Gerard, who asked not to have his last name included in the report, has a brother who is incarcerated at Indian Creek Correctional Center in Chesapeake. He said not enough is being done to keep those on the inside safe.
"They are not testing them, they’re not cleaning the facility and if they find out the person has coronavirus they just take them out [and they don't clean afterwards]," he said. "[My brother] said the only thing they have is, I think, they have the two paper blue masks and they put like a small bottle of sanitizer in the unit for like 50 people."
However the Department of Corrections, along with state leaders, dispute this claim saying they're working relentlessly to provide care and accurate sanitation.
In a press conference with Governor Ralph Northam on Wednesday, Brian Moran the Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security said, "we have done some aggressive testing in two facilities, in particular, in the Chesapeake area: St. Brides and Indian Creek. As you know and what the governor already addressed today is in Hampton Roads area that we're seeing an uptick and we're taking actions to address that."
St. Brides, who reports a daily population of 1,138, recently had an outbreak of more than 260 cases. At last check, on Thursday afternoon, those positive cases had gone up again.
"The DOC will continue to be very vigilant to address the uptick and address those cases and make sure we can you know quarantine appropriately," Moran said.
Families said words aren't enough. They said they want their loved ones living conditions changed and more care to be taken.
Gerard said he believes changes starts from top leaders, "I think the Warden plays a big role in this because he needs to keep them safe. Because if it was their child or their brother then...I pretty much think they would take more precaution."
In a statement to News 3, the Department of Corrections said:
"The doctors, nurses, and medical staff at DOC facilities are working around the clock to identify and provide care to offenders during this pandemic. Security and operations staff are carefully managing offender movement and adhering to the Department’s extensive medical epidemic/pandemic sanitation plan. The plan is in place to make certain that all Department facilities ensure accurate sanitation during this pandemic while utilizing appropriate chemicals and approved personal protective equipment.
All offenders and staff are required to wear appropriate PPE or cloth face coverings at all times, including medical-grade PPE, such as N-95 masks, when appropriate. Sneeze/cough guard masks made by Virginia Correctional Enterprises have been provided to offenders and staff members. Offenders are required to wear their VCE masks. Staff are required to wear either the provided VCE masks or another form of PPE mask.
The Department continues to plan for every possible contingency, following CDC & VDH guidelines for corrections and working closely with the local Virginia Department of Health offices and university hospital partners.
While the Department of Corrections does provide statistics online about how many cases there are at each facility location, News 3 wanted to know exactly how many tests have been done and what the percent positivity is.
We filed a Freedom Of Information Act request with the state and will update when we have further information.