Connecticut inmate dead of COVID-19; first inmate coronavirus death in 6 months as cases surge statewide

Zach Murdock, Hartford Courant

A 45-year-old Connecticut inmate died Wednesday from COVID-19 complications, marking the first coronavirus death of an incarcerated person in almost six months as the virus surges again across the country.

The man had been transferred to a hospital for treatment in mid-October from the Osborn Correctional Institution, according to the Department of Correction, but the department did not release his name citing medical privacy laws.

The man is the eighth inmate to die after contracting COVID-19, but his death is the first since May 26, when the department was in the throes of the so-called first wave of the virus this spring when hundreds of inmates and staff tested positive.

After a sharp drop in cases followed this summer, this new death comes as the virus surges again across Connecticut this fall. The state reported that its weekly positive test rate has reached 5.6% and that 816 COVID-19 patients are hospitalized in Connecticut -- many as were hospitalized in mid-May during that first wave -- while the death toll across the country surpassed 250,000.

“This is a sobering reminder that we cannot let our guard down when it comes to the coronavirus,” DOC Commissioner Designate Angel Quiros said in a statement. “We will continue to take the necessary precautions to limit its spread within our facilities. My condolences go out to his family and loved ones.”

Twenty inmates in DOC custody currently have COVID-19 and are experiencing symptoms, Quiros said. They are recovering in a medical isolation unit at the MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution.

Another 20 have tested positive but are not showing symptoms and 116 staff members are “recovering” from COVID-19, according to the department’s online tracker.

Nearly 1,700 inmates have tested positive since the pandemic reached Connecticut in March and late last month the ACLU of Connecticut wrote in a letter to state officials that the DOC has failed to meet the terms of a settlement designed to increase safety for incarcerated people across all 14 DOC facilities.

The settlement outlined a series of safety and hygiene requirements for staff and facilities to follow after the ACLU, attorneys and inmates raised questions about whether the DOC was adequately protecting inmates, but the ACLU now says some DOC staff are not wearing their required face masks. The DOC has said a panel overseeing the settlement is reviewing the ACLU’s letter and that inmate safety is the department’s top priority.

On Wednesday, dozens of family members of inmates protested outside the Hartford Correctional Center to demand state and DOC officials further protect inmates from the virus.

The man who died Wednesday was not eligible for parole until May 2021 and was scheduled to be released in August 2021, according to the department. He was jailed in October 2018 and was serving a three-year sentence for third-degree burglary and second-degree strangulation.

Zach Murdock can be reached at zmurdock@courant.com.

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