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Corrections officer says COVID-19 has ‘been an added stress, for sure’

(Photo by Emiliano Bar on Unsplash)

A Washington state Department of Corrections officer, Berisford Morse, died Sunday from complications of COVID-19. His death is the first from COVID-19 involving a state correctional officer, honored as a line-of-duty fatality. Morse was 65-years-old and had worked for the department for many years. Contact tracing showed he caught the virus after interacting with an inmate who had the virus.

There are at least a dozen inmates who have tested positive for COVID-19 at the Monroe Correctional Facility alone, where Morse worked.

Another corrections officer, Officer T, whose identity is being kept anonymous, joined the Gee and Ursula Show to talk about the perils of the job during the pandemic.

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“It’s been an added stress, for sure,” he said. “It’s already stressful enough … working in the prison system, in a prison setting, and then adding this, the COVID-19, and just how aggressive this virus is.

It gets pretty stressful, especially with things changing every day with the department.”

Officer T said they wear personal protective equipment, and masks are mandatory, but they have had to receive quick training on how to put the gear on and take it off safely. They also have gloves, and depending on what area you’re in, you may have to wear full PPE, including gowns or eye protection. On top of that, he says, the rules and situations where you have to wear PPE or not wear PPE seem to change every couple days.

“The thing is, it’s just really hard with the job that we do for everything to be overseen to where things are done absolutely correctly,” he said. “A lot of times, the officers, we have to watch out for each other. We have to make sure that we’re constantly talking to each other and like, ‘hey, make sure you do this,’ ‘make sure you have that on,’ ‘make sure you take it off in this order.'”

“And for the most part, we’ve been really looking out for each other, really doing well as far as trying to keep everybody safe,” he added.

If there were to be an outbreak in the prisons, Officer T admitted it could get bad quickly.

“It could get very bad for the numbers that we have now,” he said.

The last time he checked the database, there were around 17 inmates who were COVID-19 positive and eight or nine officers.

“If it does start to spread, … it could just get crazy because, like you said, there really are a lot of areas where these inmates are double bunked, they’re in a cell together, so trying to separate them and keep them safe … gets kind of difficult.”

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Additionally, Officer T says the inmates are already have a lot of restrictions placed on them, and they don’t want to have more taken things away.

Even with this risk for a dangerous outbreak, Officer T does not believe releasing inmates early is the best idea.

“There are a lot of us that don’t support it. I mean, why release them early? … There’s probably more of a chance for them to get infected outside than inside because, again, we have cleaning protocols. We have all kinds of PPE. We even have the masks for the inmates,” he said. “So it didn’t really make sense for us to release inmates … to keep them from catching this.”

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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