Amid COVID-19 outbreak at SCI-Camp Hill, corrections officers make the case for vaccine plan

“The mental anguish of passing the virus from prisons to their loved ones also takes a tremendous toll. It’s time for this administration to use common sense in its vaccination plan.”

  • Julia Agos

(Camp Hill) – A COVID-19 outbreak at a state prison in Cumberland County has renewed calls for corrections officers to be prioritized for the vaccine.

Over a three-day span, nearly 400 people have been infected at the State Correctional Institution at Camp Hill — including over 30 guards.

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections said 1599 inmates were tested in the Camp Hill facility and 352 tested positive.

Prison staff are currently slated to be vaccinated in the 1B phase of the state’s distribution plan.

But Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association President John Eckenrode says it’s not soon enough.

He says outbreaks will continue to happen at state prisons until personnel are vaccinated.

“This could be done in only a few short days if officers were a priority,” he said. “Instead, they are overworked, exhausted and are working massive amounts of overtime due to COVID-19 illnesses.”

Three state prisons – SCI Laurel Highlands, SCI Waymart and SCI Muncy – were included in Phase 1A of the distribution plan because they are designated as long term care facilities.

“We don’t have the vaccine available for us to distribute other than at the three federally designated long-term care facilities … the Dept. of Health determines the phase and prioritization of vaccinations,” said state Department of Corrections spokesperson Maria Bivens.

Since the pandemic began one year ago, around 2,000 corrections officers have been infected across several state prisons and three have died.

Eckenrode says the facilities are super spreaders by nature.

“Our members work in a congregate setting, where it’s extremely hard to social distance. Once the virus gets inside out institutions it is very hard to contain,” he said.

The state Department of Corrections did not respond to a request for comment.

The union represents more than 10,000 corrections professionals at 26 state facilities across the commonwealth.

Eckenrode said such outbreaks effect community spread as well, since infected officers often have to go home to their families.

“The mental anguish of passing the virus from prisons to their loved ones also takes a tremendous toll. It’s time for this administration to use common sense in its vaccination plan,” he said.

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