Warden: York prison monitoring staff, inmates; quarantining as necessary

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch

York County Prison is checking the temperatures of employees and private contractors before they enter the Springettsbury Township facility and also is screening incoming inmates and detainees for fever and flu-like symptoms in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Warden Clair Doll.

That began March 16, he said in a Friday email to The York Dispatch.

Employees and contractors who have temperatures of more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit cannot enter the prison for at least seven days from the onset of their symptoms, and then only after their temperatures have returned to normal for at least 72 hours without the help of fever-reducing medications, according to Doll.

Inmates and detainees with fevers or flu-like symptoms are being isolated, monitored and treated, the warden said.

When a symptomatic person is found, prison officials review surveillance footage to determine who else might have been affected and what housing units should be quarantined and monitored, according to Doll. Any housing unit put into quarantine status will remain that way until a medical professional clears it to reopen, he said.

York County Prison in Springettsbury Township, Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2016.

Tested negative: So far, two people in the prison have exhibited flu-like symptoms, Doll said — one was diagnosed with a respiratory illness unrelated to COVID-19, and the second tested negative for it.

"Inmates and detainees that had contact with these two individuals were quarantined and monitored in their housing units," Doll wrote, but they have since been released from quarantine by a medical professional.

He said that COVID-19 testing kits were in short supply as of Friday and can only be issued through a request to the state Department of Health.

"Like the rest of the world, we are adjusting our strategy as we learn more about this virus," Doll said in the email.

The warden said he presented his initial COVID-19 action plan to the county prison board on March 11, after which the board gave Doll the authority to take "necessary steps" to manage any outbreak in the prison.

He then posted and distributed to all employees a memorandum about the plan, he said, adding that since then, employees have been given additional updates and more modifications have been put in place.

Doll provided The York Dispatch with a redacted copy of that memo. 

The memo provides staff with a list of COVID-19 symptoms, an explanation about how the coronavirus spreads, how to reduce transmission and the prison's plan of action.

It also states that all work-release contact visits have been suspended until further notice, as have all court-ordered contact visits between inmates and children.

The memo also states that cleaning and disinfecting efforts have been increased.

Delaware County trips: It remains unclear whether York County Prison corrections officers are still making trips to Delaware County's prison to pick up federal immigration detainees.

For that question, Doll referred comment to federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement  officials. An email to ICE's public information office was not returned Friday.

Bob Ganoe, who resigned as a corrections officer earlier this month from York County Prison, confirmed that about once or twice a week, York County corrections officers drive to the George W. Hill Correctional Facility — Delaware County's privately run county prison — to pick up ICE detainees and bring them to York County Prison, which has a federal contract to house immigration detainees.

York County Prison in Springettsbury Township, Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2016.

The Delaware County Daily Times has reported that 11 inmates and 23 employees at the prison were quarantined after being exposed to a prison employee who later tested positive for COVID-19. The newspaper later reported that those 34 people remained asymptomatic.

Ganoe said a number of the detainees brought to York County Prison from Delaware County's prison come from New Jersey and New York.

Ganoe told The York Dispatch his last day was supposed to be March 13 but that he left two days early because he was afraid a COVID-19 outbreak could force a lockdown and he would be stuck inside the prison, unable to start his new job on time.

Doll acknowledged that some staff members were worried about being quarantined inside the prison for two weeks, should someone inside test positive.

But he said that won't happen.

York County Prison Warden Clair Doll

"Prisons, by their very nature, must have a certain number of staff members working at all times. If not enough staff show up for work it might be necessary for staff already working to stay longer," the warden wrote.

"In some cases (we have seen this during snowstorms), staff may need to stay at the prison for several days until enough staff report to work to relieve them," he said. "This is not a quarantine and has never lasted 14 days."

— Reach senior crime reporter Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.