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COVID-19 Outbreak at Middle River Regional Jail Slowed, But Not Stopped

Middle River Regional Jail

An outbreak of COVID-19 at the Middle River Regional Jail in Staunton appears to be slowing, but not yet stopped. WMRA's Randi B. Hagi reports.

The COVID-19 outbreak at Middle River Regional Jail began in late November, and by the first week of December, over a third of its inmates had tested positive for the virus. Since then, the jail has been testing, each week, every inmate and staff member who tested negative the week before. As of January 11, the jail says it’s had a total of 556 inmates test positive out of the 805 in custody, and 75 staff members have tested positive.

Credit Eric Young, MRRJ

Major Eric Young is the director of administration at Middle River.

ERIC YOUNG: Our numbers, they were high initially and then we saw them decrease by a hundred or so, and then for several weeks it was, you know, where we had 60 or 70 inmates testing positive. And then last week we saw it drop even further, where we only had 13 inmates test positive. As for staff, you know, for the past three or four weeks we've had two or three staff members testing positive. So we're seeing a decrease in the number of positive cases we're getting, and I think it's just due to the fact that we've sort of kept the facility locked down as much as possible, but still maintaining operations that need to happen … Hopefully we're over the worst of the cases.

While only one Middle River inmate has been hospitalized with COVID-19 so far, family and friends of inmates are scared for their loved ones. Cathy Long, from Staunton, has a nephew in Middle River.

CATHY LONG: My nephew's baby mama's also in there. And you know how the thing said that girls did not have COVID? She's had it. And they don't give them nothing to sanitize with, nothing.

Young explained that, while the press release does say [quote] "no female inmates tested positive," that was only referring to recent rounds of testing. About 175 of the people incarcerated at Middle River are women.

YOUNG: Initially we had a large amount of female inmates test positive. But in the last two weeks we've had no female inmates test positive.

Medical staff at the jail have already been offered the vaccine, although The Citizenreported on Thursday that only about a quarter of the employees who qualified to be vaccinated had taken it. Inmates are included in phase 1b of the vaccine rollout, which hasn't yet reached the Shenandoah Valley.

YOUNG: We have had our medical staff offered the vaccine and have had their first shots. And then, so we're just waiting to hear from the department of health as to when our officer or jail staff will have access to the vaccine … we sort of understand it may be in the next few weeks.

Randi B. Hagi first joined the WMRA team in 2019 as a freelance reporter. Her writing and photography have been featured in The Harrisonburg Citizen, where she previously served as the assistant editor; as well as The Mennonite; Mennonite World Review; and Eastern Mennonite University's Crossroads magazine.