Corrections Employee Tests Positive for Coronavirus

By Riley Bunch and Chris Herbert | The Valdosta Daily Times | March 18, 2020 

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ATLANTA — An employee at one of the state’s 34 state prisons tested positive for COVID-19, the Department of Corrections announced Wednesday.

The person last worked March 12, according to the department. But the department did not release the person’s identity or which facility they work at, citing privacy reasons.

The department reported there are no inmates who had tested positive for coronavirus as of Wednesday and said it is actively screening anyone who enters its facilities. 

Immediately after the correction department reported the positive case, the Georgia ACLU released a statement urging for Georgians in custody to receive necessary COVID-19 protections.

“People in custody cannot protect themselves. This situation makes it even more urgent for state and local officials to implement procedures to protect all people who are in our prisons and jails from being exposed to and contracting the COVID-19 virus,” said Andrea Young, executive director of the ACLU of Georgia. “Individuals who are low-level offenders or who are incarcerated awaiting trial because of an inability to pay cash bail or in custody due to an inability to pay fines and fees should be released.”

A memo titled “Communicable Disease Protocol,” sent March 11 by Betsy Thomas, Corrections director of human resources, to directors, wardens, superintendents and HR managers, identifies a four-step protocol: 

  1. notification and verification of disease risk
  2. identifying the scope of the risk
  3. determining employer response 
  4. handling internal and HR compliance matters.

The memo, obtained by The Valdosta Daily Times through an open records request, outlines the GDC protocol saying it will verify the disease by requiring “a medical exam or health certification to confirm the illness;” the GDC will determine who is at risk for contracting the illness and consider any possible contacts, including those outside of the office or facility.

Corrections will advise the affected employee to seek medical attention from their attending physician and determine the severity of the disease “in order to justify decisions such as an emergency shutdown, or if a limited threat, only a review of a department or single area,” according to the memo.

It also addresses privacy by stating all employee medical information will remain private and Corrections will not provide names of infected parties or whether anyone is on leave via the Family Medical Leave Act or receiving accommodations through the Americans with Disabilities Act “unless there is a business need to provide this information, such as to a specific manager of an employee who is infected.” 

According to a memo regarding telework sent from Corrections Commissioner Timothy Ward to the office of Gov. Brian Kemp March 16, all non-essential office staff were requested to work remotely and essential employees in the office instructed to practice social distancing. 

Facility operations “will continue as normal with essential security staff reporting in as scheduled.” Screening procedures have been put into place for anyone entering prison facilities across the state. As of Wednesday, the department had suspended both regular visitation and attorney visitation.