State officials say every staff member and inmate at Lemon Creek Correctional Center in Juneau will be tested for COVID-19 starting Thursday.
That comes after two more staff members tested positive for the disease this week, more than a month after the first case was detected at the facility. So far, 10 staff members at the facility have contracted the virus.
Department of Corrections spokesperson Sarah Gallagher wrote in an email that the tests arrived in Juneau Wednesday and medical staff and public health nurses began testing at the facility Thursday morning. They estimate it will take three days to finish testing everyone.
Sgt. Randy McLellan is the president of the Alaska Correctional Officers Association and works at Hiland Mountain Correctional Center in Eagle River.
He said the union has repeatedly asked the department to test everyone in facilities with confirmed cases, but has received little to no response.
“They’re giving the appearance that they’ve got concern and they take measures to protect staff, inmates and the public, but they’ve genuinely not put forward effective measures to do so at this time,” McLellan said Thursday.
According to numbers updated daily by the Department of Corrections, about 5% of inmates across the state have been tested as of Thursday morning. One test has come back positive since testing began. An inmate at Goose Creek Correctional Center in Wasilla tested positive last month.
“So that’s a really small percentage of our population that’s been tested, especially when we’ve had positive cases in our facilities,” McLellan said.
Last month, ACOA asked the state to help find alternative housing where correctional officers in Juneau could stay while waiting on test results or if they were worried about exposing their families.
At the time, the Department of Corrections responded that temporary housing was available for any staff who had tested positive or who had been identified as a close contact of someone who had.
But McLellan said as far as he knows, no officers have taken advantage of it.
“I’m not sure if it’s because the officers are choosing not to or there’s again, just a lack of communication or lack of information, informing the officers that this option exists for them,” he said.
Attempts to reach correctional officers and staff at Lemon Creek Correctional Center on Thursday were unsuccessful.