Coronavirus cases at Fort Dix prison in New Jersey have erupted again, with 442 cases reported among inmates and 11 among staff — the worst outbreak to date and the worst among the country’s federal prisons.
The surge comes just a month after another spike at the facility infected nearly 300 inmates and prompted the state’s Democratic U.S. Senators to demand answers from the Bureau of Prisons which oversees the low-security prison for men about 30 miles from Philadelphia.
“With the latest spike in cases, it’s clear BOP isn’t doing enough to protect the safety of incarcerated persons or staff at FCI Fort Dix,” Steven Sandberg, press secretary for Senator Bob Menendez, wrote in an email to Gothamist/WNYC.
Menendez and Senator Cory Booker earlier this month asked the BOP to implement a testing strategy and stop transfers between facilities until there were no new cases. They also asked the BOP to respond to the lack of medical care for sick prisoners and the absence of cleaning protocols reported by Gothamist/WNYC.
The BOP wrote to the senators and the Congressional delegation in a December 16th letter that prisoners have “full access” to health services staff during daily rounds and that everyone is properly screened when they enter Fort Dix or leave the compound. The agency said the prison warden could request a temporary moratorium on transfers if needed.
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“Our first and foremost consideration is the health and safety of our staff, inmates and the general public,” BOP director Michael Carvajal wrote.
The men incarcerated inside Fort Dix told Gothamist/WNYC in November that most of the cases at the time were in buildings on the west side of the sprawling former military compound that houses 2,700. Family members of those incarcerated, prisoner advocates, and one inmate said the infection is now on the east side of the complex.
Another 349 inmates are marked as recovered from the virus at Fort Dix, meaning almost one-third of the population has tested positive. Most of those cases were recorded in the last two months.
The BOP said in a statement to Gothamist/WNYC that transmission rates mirror infections in the community and are most likely not a result of transfers between prisons which resumed at the end of November.
The agency said it is using testing tools to mitigate the spread and that the number of hospitalized inmates remains low — although officials did not disclose how many inmates were on ventilators. No COVID-related deaths have been reported.
Meanwhile, dozens of men at Fort Dix have continued to file petitions in court for early release due to the pandemic. The BOP said it has released 98 men on home confinement and 89 through compassionate release.