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County inmates recover from virus

197 prisoners tested positive for COVID-19

HOLLIDAYSBURG — The Blair County Prison population now includes 194 inmates who have recovered from COVID-19 conditions and three inmates with positive test results.

Current inmates who tested positive in December — during one of two testing rounds — have since recovered and are now being housed in the general population, Warden Abbie Tate reported Thursday to the county prison board.

Newly admitted inmates, she said, are being tested for COVID-19 upon arriving, then tested two more times during a 14-day quarantine before they’re considered for general population housing.

With the prison’s current inmate population at 213, Tate said the current arrangements are working well.

“I do have some concern that if the population increases, then there’s the potential to run out of room to accommodate a 14-day quarantine,” she said.

In 2020, the prison’s population ranged from a high of 387 in March to a low of 218 in December. The decline reflects efforts made to reduce the prison population in light of COVID-19 and lessen the potential health risks associated with the virus, which spread throughout the prison in late November and December.

Tate offered thanks and recognition to Prime Care Medical Director Ashley Simmers and staffers assigned to the prison to handle inmate medical care, based on a contract the county holds with the company.

“It certainly hasn’t been an easy time for our medical department,” the warden said. “Even when things are going well here, the medical department is one of the harder departments to run based on the layout of the building, the age of the facility.”

A.C. Stickel, prison board chairman, also thanked Simmers and her staff.

“We’ve had great success and a great relationship with Prime Care,” Stickel said.

Tate also told the prison board that she relayed interest in vaccinations, reported by inmates and prison staff, to the county’s Emergency Management Agency. That agency is working with the state Department of Health, which is supervising vaccine distributions based on a priority list and current limited supplies that are supposed to increase.

Even though the amount of COVID-19 in the prison has dropped, it’s anticipated that the county’s court system will continue relying on video communication for county inmates involved in court proceedings.

While a few inmates have been transported to the courthouse for recent proceedings, most are being directed to participate by video.

President Judge Elizabeth Doyle, who sits on the prison board, said that the current practice will remain intact as long as Blair County continues to see higher levels of COVID-19 cases and deaths.

It could change, Doyle said, if those numbers drop to lower levels, like in the summer and early fall when juries were selected and trials commenced with restrictive precautions.

“Right now, it’s just not possible,” Doyle said.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay

Stephens is at 814-946-7456.

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