Department of Correction got a head start on screening for coronavirus

Delaware Department of Corrections Commissioner Claire DeMatteis has her temperature taken by Lt. Angelo Daniello as Correctional Officers Union of Delaware President Geoff Klopp looks before entering the Morris Correctional Center in Dover on Thursday. (Delaware State News/Marc Cleary

DOVER — Always looking for infectious disease threats, the Delaware Department of Correction began screening for coronavirus in January.

The annual flu season had already engaged screening protocols for staff, volunteers and inmates related and potential symptoms. Once coronavirus began to spread in China, DOC expanded screening of inmates at intake for recent travel outside the continental United States, the DOC said.

As flu season wound down in late February, DOC increased coronavirus screening to include all visitors as an early precautions and prior to the enormous and deadly worldwide pandemic.

“We’re always on the lookout for infectious diseases,” Commissioner Claire DeMatteis said Thursday afternoon. “Our job is to think of the worst possible scenarios and plan from there.”

About 2 1/2 months later the crisis has hamstrung all walks of life. First State inmate cleaning crews are working with heightened intensity at maximum security and work-release/substance abuse treatment facilities, overseen by correctional officers.

DOC continues to operate with existing resources, spokesman Jason Miller said.

Commissioner DeMatteis and other officials checked in at Morris Community Correctional Center leadership on Thursday. Staff took her temperature as is standard screening procedure.

Upon arrival at Morris CCC, visitors are also asked about potential symptoms and contacts that may raise concerns. The aim is to protect staff, outside visitors, volunteers and inmates alike.

“All our people are stepping up and morale is high,” the commissioner said. “Walking into a facility it’s easy to see immediately that the staff is on top of it. I’m so extremely impressed on how everyone has risen up to meet the challenge they face.”

Probation and parole offices are rented and cleaned by property owners under terms of the leases.

On March 12, DOC temporary inmate visitation; video contacts were available for families.

On March 16, the DOC began to allow two free five-minute phone calls per week between inmates in custody and families.

Additional cleaning of all DOC facilities is occurring as much as two times each day, including sanitizing work spaces and disinfecting of hard surfaces that can retain germs,” Mr. Miller said. “Surfaces in high traffic areas are sanitized even more frequently.

“Additionally, inmates are provided cleaning supplies to sanitize and disinfect cell areas.”

The DOC is pushing staff, contractors and inmates to follow the same guidelines issued to the public. Inmates have received related fliers and have wide access to soap and water, Mr. Miller said, among other precautions.

Wall mounted sanitizers are available throughout facilities, primarily to staff, but inmates also have access in hallways and infirmaries, the DOC Also, the “DOC has ordered additional hand soap stations that will be wall-mounted in recreational areas and facility lobbies,” Mr. Miller said.

“These hand soap stations will be available to staff (lobbies) and inmates (recreation areas).”

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

Have a question, tip, or resources about the coronavirus pandemic? Submit it to our newsroom and we’ll do what we can to provide answers.