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The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases at the federal prison complex in Lompoc jumped by 65 today as the penitentiary started the process of testing 100 percent of inmates in one particularly hard-hit area of the property. There are now 172 confirmed cases among staff and inmates throughout the grounds, and that figure is expected to rise sharply in the coming days as testing continues.
The known prison cases account for more than a quarter of all Santa Barbara County infections, which has now reached 613. The number of prison cases, combined with community cases in the cities of Santa Maria and Lompoc, where the majority of staff live, account for more than two-thirds of the county’s total.
The Bureau of Prisons said Tuesday it would be testing all inmates at Federal Correctional Institution Lompoc (FCI Lompoc), the low-security component of the complex that houses 1,186 male offenders. The other half of the complex is United States Penitentiary Lompoc (USP Lompoc), with 1,530 inmates. The bureau notably did not say mass testing was taking place there.
“This robust testing will assist FCI Lompoc in slowing transmission by identifying those asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic individuals who may be carrying the virus unknowingly and separating them from those who test negative, thus preventing these COVID-positive inmates from transmitting the virus to others,” the agency said in a prepared statement.
“Social distancing inside a prison is difficult to achieve, especially with an open dormitory style setting,” the statement continued. “FCI Lompoc tackled this challenge by placing over 250 beds in alternative housing to create space and serve as quarantine locations. On the prison grounds, multiple temperature-controlled field living quarters are being utilized for housing. Additionally, the gymnasium, chapel, visiting room, and the decommissioned prison industry factory have been repurposed to accommodate inmate housing.”
The prison also just completed construction on a hospital unit within a decommissioned factory on the property. It contains 20 acute-care beds, a pharmacy, biohazard room, and other medical resources. Bureau of Prison (BOP) officials, citing security concerns, have declined to state how many staff and inmates are currently being treated at area hospitals.
Inmates in outside hospitals are guarded 24 hours a day by two officers on eight-hour shifts. Due to outbreak-related staffing shortages at the Lompoc complex, the BOP has reportedly been flying in guards from one or more of its 121 other penitentiaries to fill the empty shifts.
This article was underwritten in part by the Mickey Flacks Journalism Fund for Social Justice, a proud, innovative supporter of local news. To make a contribution go to sbcan.org/journalism_fund. For other articles supported by the Flacks Fund, click here.