D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser on Monday appointed a Cabinet-level official to oversee court-ordered requirements to slow the spread of the coronavirus at the D.C. Jail.
Clinton Lacey, director of the Department of Youth and Rehabilitative Services, will lead the implementation of new cleaning protocols, training on personal protective equipment (PPE) and tactics to enforce social distancing after the U.S. District Court issued an order Sunday for immediate improvements at the jail.
Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ordered the city’s Department of Corrections (DOC) to make the improvements after the court had appointed investigators who found that inmates were using dirty rags and towels to clean common areas, many in the jail weren’t wearing proper PPE and inmates in isolation for testing positive weren’t allowed to leave their cells to shower or make phone calls.
The court action came in response to a lawsuit brought by the Public Defender Service and the American Civil Liberties Union.
“Plaintiffs have provided evidence that Defendants are aware of the risk that COVID-19 poses to plaintiffs’ health and have disregarded those risks by failing to take comprehensive, timely, and proper steps to stem the spread of the virus,” Judge Kollar-Kotelly wrote in her opinion accompanying the order.
As of Monday, there were 90 positive cases of coronavirus among inmates, 50 of whom have recovered and a total of 880 inmates who are in quarantine.
For DOC personnel, 25 have tested positive, seven of whom have returned to work and a total of 152 staff members are self quarantining.
Social distancing was not being enforced at the jail due to a lack of staffing, according to the court investigators.
Kevin Donahue, deputy mayor for public safety and justice, said that more than a quarter of the workforce is not coming into work. Mr. Donahue said social distancing actually eases staffing problems because only five inmates are allowed out of their cells at a time.
Miss Bowser said she disagreed with any conclusion that her administration isn’t working hard to save lives in the District.
The mayor said she chose Mr. Lacey, who also is overseeing conditions at St. Elizabeths Hospital, for his experience in corrections. He helped transition the Department of Youth and Rehabilitative Services from court oversight as part of a 30-year-old class-action lawsuit.
Mr. Lacey will provide weekly updates on the conditions of D.C. Jail and St. Elizabeths.
Also on Monday, Miss Bowser introduced plans to extend sidewalks in front of essential businesses to create more space for social distancing.
The District Department of Transportation will take recommendations from Advisory Neighborhood Commissions and Business Improvement District representatives as to which sidewalks will be temporarily extended.
In Virginia, Gov. Ralph Northam has established a testing work group to focus on expanding test sites and testing criteria.
“The ability to run large numbers of tests is key to any plans to ease restrictions on businesses and gatherings,” Mr. Northam said Monday at a press conference.
The governor appointed former Virginia health commissioner Karen Remley and state epidemiologist Lilian Peake to lead the group in identifying factors that limit testing, such as the availability of supplies such as swabs and containers to transport tests to labs.
Mr. Northam said restrictions won’t be eased until the state sees a steady decline in cases over a 14-day period, along with consideration of the number of hospitalizations and people on ventilators.