FRANKFORT, Ky. — Adding more COVID-19 testing sites in Kentucky is revealing a bigger picture of where coronavirus is in the state.
Tuesday, during his 5 p.m. briefing Governor Andy Beshear dropped the news that the state has seen its largest single-day number of positive cases.
The state had 625 cases since Monday and 309 (almost half) of them were at the Green River Correctional facility.
"It says that this is a concerning situation at that facility," Gov. Beshear said Tuesday. "The steps we are now taking at Green River are necessary."
Girlfriend of an inmate at Green River, Kayleigh Watson, said the news was "sad."
"I was really heartbroken. It was the most disappointing news," Watson said. "They say that they have it under control, but it just blatantly shows that they don't."
Watson said the inmates were tested last week, but since then, they have not been told if they tested positive.
"They're just moving them around, they're not telling them anything," she said. "They're panicking."
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While 309 is a large jump, bringing the total to about 400 inmates, staff, and contract workers now with the virus, Watson said she believes the number is likely higher.
Tricia Lister, an attorney representing up to 9 Green River inmates, said she expected the number of new cases would be high, and believes more are to come.
"I'm really glad there's confirmation. but I think that means there's going to be a lot more," Lister said. "I doubt that number is static."
Gov. Beshear said many of the new cases announced Tuesday are people who were asymptomatic.
"So many people are asymptomatic, so if you're just counting on when people have symptoms, then we'll isolate them, that's not going to do it. Tha'ts not going to stop this massive spread," Lister said.
Executive Cabinet Secretary J. Michael Brown said two inmates and two staff members are currently hospitalized. Green River has seen two deaths from the virus. They’re still trying to determine if a death over the weekend was a result of COVID-19.
They had their first positive case on March 25 with a staff member and then on April 5 an inmate tested positive. Brown says 1,081 have been tested overall and 1,029 of the results from inmates and staff are in. They are still awaiting the results of 52 tests.
"We're waiting for these next 52 results to come back in, the snapshot will be complete and then we can really follow out this plan to try to contain it where this is," Brown said.
The state announced Monday it has plans to separate the inmates into separate areas and building to try to contain the virus.
They'll be divided by positive cases, negative cases who had direct exposure, negative cases who never had exposure, and negative inmates in the vulnerable population.
Both Watson and Lister think the state's plan won't be enough to contain the virus. Lister said she sees issue with no real timeline presented as to when the inmates will be moved, and questions how the move will even be possible within the facility.
"If they're not re-testing frequently, then will they know when to move people?" she said. "Who knows how many people will have it by the time they get this plan rolled out? And how thoroughly are they going to scour the buildings and sanitize the buildings before they move people in? There's just so many logistical, technical questions that can they really do those things?"
"They're playing Russian Roulette with the guys' lives," Watson said.
Watson fears more deaths will come, with so many positive cases now at the facility. She hopes the state will do more to ensure inmates are protected. She claims the state has lied when saying inmates are being given soap or hand sanitizer. As of Monday night, Watson said her boyfriend still has not received those items.
"It is inhumane to have them locked in a facility without a way of protecting themselves," she said. "I feel helpless, what am I supposed to do?"
Watson is calling on Gov. Beshear's office to release more of the inmates at Green River, due to the circumstances. Lister is also hoping the courts will get involved. She said Wednesday, there will be hearings on the cases of two inmates she is representing.
"A lot of these people are serving relatively short sentences, they might be due to get out next year, but now it might be a death sentence instead," Lister said. "That's a huge punishment that isn't what was intended by the sentencing courts and the juries when these people were sentenced."
ACLU-KY's legal fellow Aaron Tucek also released a statement after the numbers at Green River were released:
“The new information about the scope of the COVID-19 outbreak at the Green River Correctional Complex is shocking, but not surprising. While it is a positive step that the Department of Corrections will finally medically isolate people who test positive for COVID-19--had DOC taken this very reasonable measure weeks ago, Green River may not be facing such a serious outbreak. Our thoughts are with the 309 COVID-19 positive incarcerated people and Green River staff members, particularly the four that are currently hospitalized. We hope for their full recovery from this disease.
The situation at Green River Correctional Complex could be repeated in jails, prisons, and detention centers across the commonwealth. While some steps have been taken, we continue to call on Governor Beshear, the Department of Corrections, ICE Officials, local jailers, prosecutors, judges, and those in charge of youth facilities to act boldly and swiftly to drastically reduce incarcerated populations and put in place aggressive sanitation measures to keep those who remain there safe and healthy. Detention should not be a death sentence.”
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Kentucky totals so far, according to state's website:
- Number Tested: 61,013
- Positive: 5,822
- Deaths: 275