Lemon Creek Correctional Center has sailed on without a case of coronavirus since a mid-April outbreak that infected 11 staff. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

Lemon Creek Correctional Center has sailed on without a case of coronavirus since a mid-April outbreak that infected 11 staff. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

Prison superintendent talks staying safe as pandemic continues

After a mid-spring outbreak, LCCC hasn’t had any confirmed cases.

After an outbreak of the coronavirus earlier this year that infected 11 staff members, Lemon Creek Correctional Center has worked hard to control and prevent further spread, said the prison’s superintendent.

And their efforts have been successful, Superintendent Bob Cordle said in a phone interview.

“We’re doing pretty good,” Cordle said. “Trying to combat an infectious disease is hard enough. Fighting it in a congregate setting is tough.”

The source of the initial outbreak is still unknown, Cordle said. Division of Public Health officials were never able to determine the source of the original infection with the correctional officers. Cordle said he was sure his personnel had been acting safely and responsibly.

“Beginning July 1, we began COVID testing all new remands,” Cordle said. “When someone gets booked in before we release them we ask them to take a COVID test. They’re all cleared by the medical staff.”

New intakes are quarantined for 14 days regardless, Cordle said, helping to prevent an outbreak in the general population. LCCC has also closed one of its two primary entrances, and screens and temperature-checks all entries to the facility, similar to dentists’ offices or medical facilities, Cordle said.

“I’m proud of the inmates. I’m proud of how they handled the change to the normal operation. It’s been a change,” Cordle said. “They don’t like the changes. I don’t blame them. I wouldn’t like it either. But they understand the reasons and they’ve been cooperative with the changes. They wear masks, they look out for each other mostly, and they keep their living spaces tidy.”

Cordle said LCCC had created 11 new cleaning jobs for the inmates to increase effective cleaning, as well as increasing the tempo of cleaning and focusing on areas that were touched frequently such as doorknobs and sinks. There are also several inmates that continue to work sewing masks, Cordle said.

“We have a handful of inmate workers who have supplied 12,000 masks in the last four months,” Cordle said. “We have five or six workers that are still cranking them out and producing. We’re able to get enough materials to keep producing.”

Cordle said the facility became clean enough that even flu symptoms dropped off, according to the public health staff that monitor the health of the staff and inmates.

“One thing COVID did do for us is solved our overcrowding problem,” Cordle said. “There’s no real advantages for keeping people locked down. We were kind of overcrowded at the beginning of March. We dropped way down below what we’ve been at for a long time.”

Cordle said that in March, at the beginning of the pandemic, LCCC had more than 251 inmates, 26 more than the 226-bed capacity facility was rated for. Now, Cordle said, it’s down to 190, with a drop in crimes requiring imprisonment.

“We all became very aware as a group of employees how quickly a single positive case can change your world,” Cordle said. “We’re just continuing to do our jobs as we always have to protect the public. There’s a lot of great folks who put their heart into what they do here.”

Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757-621-1197 or lockett@juneauempire.com.

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