The death of a female inmate assigned to a central Virginia prison is the first fatality in a state prison linked to the new coronavirus, authorities said Tuesday.
The Virginia Department of Corrections said a 49-year-old woman, an inmate at the Virginia Correctional Center for Women in Goochland, died in a hospital Tuesday morning.
The inmate was taken to the VCU medical center in Richmond for treatment on April 4, when she tested positive for the coronavirus. She remained there for treatment until her death.
The woman, who was not identified, had underlying health conditions including asthma and hepatitis, according to the Department of Corrections. She was serving a 9-year sentence on drug charges and had been scheduled for release in 2023.
The death comes as Gov. Ralph Northam is pushing the legislature to adopt a budget amendment that would give the Department of Corrections authority to release nearly 2,000 of the roughly 30,000 inmates in its custody, primarily those with less than a year left on their sentence.
Advocacy groups including the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia have called for even broader release programs, arguing that inmates' living conditions make them particularly vulnerable to infection amid the global pandemic.
The Department of Corrections said it currently has 44 inmates and 32 staff with COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.
Also Tuesday, Virginia health authorities reported more than 400 new coronavirus cases Tuesday, largely consistent with a leveling off that has occurred over the last week.
The Virginia Department of Health also reported an increase in the death toll from 149 to 154.
The death toll also continued to climb Tuesday at theCanterbury Rehabilitation & Healthcare Center in suburban Richmond, which is grappling with one of the country’s worst virus outbreaks in a facility for the elderly and infirm. Canterbury's medical director, Dr. Jim Wright, said 45 residents have died, surpassing the 43 virus-linked deaths at the Life Care Center in suburban Seattle in Washington state.
The total number of cases in Virginia since the coronavirus arrived in the state now stands at nearly 6,200. The daily increase reported Tuesday of about 425 new cases is largely in line with what Virginia has seen over the past week.
On Monday, researchers with the University of Virginia's Biocomplexity Institute said initial data suggest that social distancing and other mitigation efforts have largely stalled the growth rate in new cases. Modeling prepared by the institute suggests the growth rate could continue to grow at a minimal rate if Gov. Ralph Northam's stay-at-home order continues through its current June 10 deadline.
Unfortunately, the same model shows that lifting those restrictions in mid-June would still result in a significant spike in case in the summer, peaking in August.
Other models show the outbreak will essentially end in June if social distancing measures remain in place through May.
The University of Virginia model is built on several assumptions researchers said represent a best guess based on available data. For instance, the model assumes that 50% of the people who contract the virus will never actually get sick. It also assumes that confirmed cases reported by public health authorities represent only 15% of the true number of cases because of limits in testing and other gaps in data collection.
For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up within weeks. For some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness and death. The vast majority of people recover.
Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.