Louisiana Inmate, 49, Dies From COVID-19, the First in Bureau of Prisons Federal Custody to Succumb to Coronavirus

A 49-year-old man died from COVID-19 at a prison in Louisiana, becoming the first federal inmate in Bureau of Prisons custody to succumb to the disease. The inmate, Patrick Jones, was being held at the low security Federal Correctional Institution Oakdale I in Oakdale, Louisiana, according to a release from the Federal Bureau of Prisons, U.S. Department of Justice.

On March 19, Jones started complaining of a persistent cough and was evaluated by medical staff at the correctional facility. He was subsequently taken to a nearby hospital for further treatment.

Medical staff at the hospital carried out tests on Jones, finding that he was positive for COVID-19. By March 20, his condition had deteriorated and he was placed on a ventilator. Despite treatment, Jones died on March 28.

According to the prisons bureau, the 49-year-old had long-term, pre-existing medical conditions of the type which can increase the risk of death from COVID-19.

Jones had been in custody at the Oakdale correctional facility since April 26, 2017 and was serving a 324-month sentence for Possession with Intent to Distribute more than 400 grams of cocaine within 1,000 feet of a junior college.

Jails and prisons across the United States are reporting an increase of COVID-19, according to Reuters. A survey of America's 20 largest jails revealed more than 350 confirmed cases between inmates and staff. In response to the pandemic and the impossibility of taking measures to lower infections, such as social distancing, authorities are releasing thousands of inmates from often overcrowded detention centers, in some cases, without being tested to see if they are carrying the virus.

"The fewer people there are in jails and prisons... the slower the virus will spread in those populations, and the slower it will spread" outside, carried by staff who are going home, Robert Cohen, a member of the New York City Board of Correction, told Al Jazeera.

prisoner, Lousiana
A prisoner's hands inside a punishment cell wing at Angola prison, Louisiana. Giles Clarke/Getty Images

In New York, Cohen said those who have been released so far are "basically persons who have city sentences for minimal crimes."

On Thursday, United States Attorney General William Barr recommended the release of at-risk inmates — such as the elderly and this with pre-existing conditions — so that they could serve the remainder of the sentences confined to their homes.

Inmate advocates are championing the move, urging authorities to accelerate the release of inmates amid the pandemic.

"We are nowhere close to the rate of release we need to see to stop the spread of COVID-19," Udi Ofer, from the American Civil Liberties Union, told Reuters. "Every day that government officials do not act is another day that lives are put at risk."

World Health Organization advice for avoiding spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

Hygiene advice

  • Clean hands frequently with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Wash hands after coughing or sneezing; when caring for the sick; before, during and after food preparation; before eating; after using the toilet; when hands are visibly dirty; and after handling animals or waste.
  • Maintain at least 1 meter (3 feet) distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your hands, nose and mouth. Do not spit in public.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or bent elbow when coughing or sneezing. Discard the tissue immediately and clean your hands.

Medical advice

  • Avoid close contact with others if you have any symptoms.
  • Stay at home if you feel unwell, even with mild symptoms such as headache and runny nose, to avoid potential spread of the disease to medical facilities and other people.
  • If you develop serious symptoms (fever, cough, difficulty breathing) seek medical care early and contact local health authorities in advance.
  • Note any recent contact with others and travel details to provide to authorities who can trace and prevent spread of the disease.
  • Stay up to date on COVID-19 developments issued by health authorities and follow their guidance.

Mask and glove usage

  • Healthy individuals only need to wear a mask if taking care of a sick person.
  • Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
  • Masks are effective when used in combination with frequent hand cleaning.
  • Do not touch the mask while wearing it. Clean hands if you touch the mask.
  • Learn how to properly put on, remove and dispose of masks. Clean hands after disposing of the mask.
  • Do not reuse single-use masks.
  • Regularly washing bare hands is more effective against catching COVID-19 than wearing rubber gloves.
  • The COVID-19 virus can still be picked up on rubber gloves and transmitted by touching your face.