Corrections working to curb coronavirus with 'defend in place'
Director Scott R. Frakes says the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services (NDCS) will utilize a “defend in place” strategy, as preparations are made to combat the coronavirus. Staff members and inmates have been advised that sanitary precautions are currently the best defense against contracting the illness.
“We are emphasizing handwashing, elbow-bumps, cough control and other steps to prevent transmission of the virus,” said Dir. Frakes. “This has been the message ever since the flu season started. It will continue to be a focus, now that coronavirus has been detected in Nebraska.”
In addition to common sense precautions, the agency is also taking stock of supplies, including hand sanitizer, masks and other items. “Fortunately, we ordered enough of those items when it appeared that the 2019-20 flu season would be problematic. At this point we have provisions for each facility.”
Dir. Frakes has heard from other state correctional systems about their initial plans for handling the virus. Many of the preparations mirror those in Nebraska. “States are reviewing their policies for managing a pandemic. They are thinking about how to handle visits and how best to communicate information to inmates and staff.”
He admitted that correctional systems were unique environments for dealing with an outbreak of illness. “People are in a contained space, which certainly does increase the opportunity for transmission among the population. But we can easily create quarantine conditions within our facilities, and we have the ability to strictly control public access. These steps can slow the spread of disease and minimize a spike in patients that challenges available resources.”
As the flu season has progressed, NDCS has continued to track the number of illnesses in each facility. That will continue to be part of the protocol, with the emergence of coronavirus.
“At some point we may have to limit or eliminate visitation or take steps to isolate inmates who become ill within our facilities,” stated Dir. Frakes. “Those decisions will be made at the appropriate time, as circumstances dictate. We do not want to act rashly, but responsibly in the best interest of our inmate population, visitors and others who come and go from our facilities.”