Nebraska State Penitentiary Covid Outbreaks

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December 3rd, 2020

Doug Koebernick, Officer General of the Nebraska Correctional System

LINCOLN – Just like the community at large, the prison system in Nebraska has been impacted greatly by COVID-19. It has entered into multiple facilities, spread and affected the most vulnerable. 

Doug Koebernick, Inspector General of the Nebraska Correctional System, has closely monitored the number of positive cases in the prisons. He, too, was surprised.

In the last month or so, we had seen it at the Nebraska state penitentiary, the community correction center in Lincoln, the work ethic camp in McCook, and then the women’s prison in York, all had outbreaks, Koebernick said.

In some of the facilities, there were over one hundred cases of COVID-19 at one time. The women’s prison in York did not have its first case until last week and only ten infected inmates were reported.

In the spring, only a few cases of infected prisoners were reported, but Koebernick is concerned because, in the past few weeks, cases of infected inmates and personnel burst out of proportion.

There had been well over 300 staff of about 21 or 22 hundred total staff that tested positive during this process, and maybe about 21 or 22 percent of these cases have taken place in the last two weeks, Koebernick, said.

When the staff tests positive or have to quarantine, it causes more stress for the correctional officials.  Moving inmates around when they are shorthanded are not easy.

And there’s been about five deaths so far attributed to COVID, Koebernick, said.

These five deaths occurred at the Nebraska State Penitentiary and Tecumseh State Correctional Institution. The age range was between 60 and 70 years.

When an outbreak takes place, inmates are segregated and people that tested positive will go into the quarantine facilities, which all buildings have.

And as people have more serious conditions from it, some of the facilities actually have skilled nursing facilities and they will go in there. But if it is bad enough, if oxygen levels are going down, then they go into the community and they will go into the hospital, Koebernick, said.

The inmates who lost the fight with COVID were treated at a community hospital.

Some of the facilities are running now modified operations in which inmates are staying in their cells all day, meals are served there and communal areas remain closed.

Koebernick thinks that penitentiaries and correctional facilities have done a good job trying to keep inmates safe. However, the bigger problem is all these facilities are overcrowded. Some units have a capacity of 50 people, some have more than a hundred.

Koebernick is gathering information to pass it on to the legislature to see what help they can provide, and he will be working with the penitentiaries to see what can be done differently, as he thinks it could be months before the pandemic is under control.

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