SCI Pine Grove

SCI Pine Grove (Gazette file photo)

Officials at the maximum-security State Correctional Institution Pine Grove in White Township reported that a 38-year-old inmate from the prison has died of COVID-19 infection at Indiana Regional Medical Center.

State Corrections Department leaders announced the death Saturday, the same day that Pennsylvania Department of Health said Indiana County registered 96 new cases of coronavirus illness, the highest single-day total since the start of the pandemic in March. Another 61 cases were registered Saturday.

Prison officials said the inmate had been imprisoned in Indiana on Jan. 8, 2019, for a sentence of 1 ½ to 5 years for receiving stolen property. Spokesperson Susan McNaughton said the inmate’s name would not be released.

The prisoner was the first to die of COVID-19 at SCI Pine Grove.

Pennsylvania Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said the prison system is taking “aggressive mitigation efforts” in the wake of the resurgence of the pandemic.

According to the news release, 10 inmates and eight staff workers have active cases of COVID-19. The Department of Corrections website, however, shows on its “COVID-19 dashboard” that SCI Pine Grove has 142 “active inmates positive” and 15 “active staff positive.”

SCI Pine Grove houses 905 inmates. Three were released from the prison on reprieves to help stop the spread of COVID-19 since the start of the coronavirus outbreak.

The dashboard reports 36 inmates and one prison worker have died from COVID-19 during the pandemic.

Figures show 55 Indiana County residents have died of COVID-19 during the pandemic, including four reported on Friday.

In Indiana County, state health department numbers released Saturday – reflecting COVID-19 activity through midnight Friday – showed 2,893 cases have been diagnosed since March including 2,264 positive tests and 629 presumed cases. The county has recorded 13,810 negative tests.

The sole figure released this morning to users of the health department’s COVID Alert PA app showed the total of cases in Indiana County rose to 2,954 by Saturday night.

From Nov. 28 through Dec. 5, the “rolling average” of COVID-19 infections in Indiana County (the number of positive results out of all tests completed) was 50.9 percent.

In the county’s personal care and nursing homes, 318 residents and 33 employees have tested positive for COVID-19 and 22 residents have died from it.

McNaughton cited research showing that Pennsylvania is one of six states where the prison population death rate from COVID-19 is lower than the general population death rate.

According to the news release, inmates who have tested positive “are in isolation at the prison or local hospitals, depending on the level of medical care required. Employees who have tested positive must isolate at their homes and cannot return to work until they provide a doctor’s note clearing them to return.”