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Stressed by COVID-19, York County Prison brings back furloughed corrections officers

Ron Musselman
York Dispatch

York County Prison will soon be getting back some manpower to assist with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The York County Prison Board gave its approval Wednesday to bring back 15 furloughed full-time corrections officers and 12 part-timers on an as-needed basis.

On Thursday, York County President Commissioner Julie Wheeler said 32 inmates had tested positive for COVID-19 since Friday, and 129 remain isolated in the same unit.

More:20 new COVID-19 cases at York County Prison since Wednesday

More:York County spent $4.7M on COVID-19 response

York County Prison in Springettsbury Township Monday, August, 24, 2020. Bill Kalina photo

Wheeler said 222 inmates have tested positive overall since the pandemic began, and 93 have recovered. She said 1,577 tests have been given, with 1,355 negative results. 

Wheeler said some inmates have been tested multiple times. 

“We do have a lot of tests coming back, so that is why we’re seeing some high numbers,” she said. “We need to make sure we are providing attention to those inmates who tested positive and give them the medical assistance they need.”

Wheeler said two inmates that previously were hospitalized after testing positive for the virus have since recovered and been released.

Warden Clair Doll said Wednesday that retirements, furloughs and resignations of furloughed workers, as well as a recent uptick in COVID-19 cases, have had an impact on the prison staff. He said a lot of vacant positions also remain unfilled, creating a need for more employees at the Springettsbury Township facility.

Doll estimated it would be two to three weeks before all of the full-time corrections officers return. He said the part-timers would work when needed.

“We can use them when we see what our needs are in certain areas,” he said. “They may not all come back at once.”

The prison recently has had to turn to housing units it normally wouldn't use in order to deal with the pandemic, the warden said. 

“We had to open the remaining housing units up in order to be able to conduct social distancing, quarantining and separation of inmates that were potentially exposed and those who have tested positive for COVID,” Doll said.

York County spent $464,000 on COVID-19 supplies from the beginning of the pandemic through July, including approximately $130,000 on masks, $34,000 on gloves and $17,000 on hand sanitizer, according to an itemized list of expenses provided to The York Dispatch.

But that paled in comparison to the extra personnel costs at York County Prison, which totaled $4.2 million to account for wages and benefits for employees to accommodate quarantines, extra cleaning and social distancing, county spokesperson Mark Walters said.

The York County Board of Commissioners approved $4.7 million in federal reimbursement funds last month to cover those costs through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES, Act.

Doll said a mail-room worker is retiring in a few weeks, and a furloughed employee the prison board also approved returning will serve as the replacement.

— Ron Musselman can be reached at rmusselman@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @ronmusselman8.