Hazelton FCI will not be getting COVID-positive inmates

AFGE Local 420 at FCC Hazleton Vice President Justin Tarovisky protests May 2 about the Bureau of Prisons decision to quarantine out-of-state inmates at FCC Hazleton.

BRUCETON MILLS — The federal Bureau of Prisons confirmed Wednesday that Federal Correctional Institute Hazelton will not be getting any prisoners who tested positive for COVID-19.

Last weekend, members of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 420 protested plans to transfer federal prisoners to the center in Preston County so they could quarantine there.

“I am grateful that we are making progress and will continue to work to ensure that the Bureau of Prisons lives up to this promise to West Virginia,” said West Virginia Attorney General Morrisey. “While much work remains, a concrete promise from the feds to test and operate under CDC guidance and not transfer any positive testing prisoners represents a step forward. We cannot and must not replicate the mistakes that plagued the Gilmer transfer. We must keep West Virginia safe.

“It is our understanding that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will be making additional tests and rapid testing processing machines available in order to dramatically increase the Bureau’s test kits nationally,” he added.

Morrisey was joined on Wednesday’s call by Preston County Commission President Samantha Stone, Preston County Prosecutor Mel Snyder, Preston County Public Health Officer Dr. Fred Conley and FCI Hazelton Warden Bryan Antonelli.

“Last night, the Bureau of Prisons, state officials and the Preston County Commission took another step forward in our efforts to protect West Virginia citizens,” Stone said. “However, we must still guarantee that the Bureau’s promise to test all inmates prior to any transfer – and only transfer negative COVID-19 inmates – will be maintained.”

Morrisey, Stone and other Preston County officials, along with U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, (R-W.Va.), and U.S. Rep. David B. McKinley, (R-1), have pushed for confirmation that no prisoners who had positive COVID-19 test results would be transferred into West Virginia.

The Wednesday evening conversation orally confirms that position, but West Virginia will continue to push for proven compliance.

Both Morrisey and Stone stood in solidarity with prison workers and community members Saturday at a rally near FCI Hazelton. There he called for increased testing, saying if rapid testing was good enough for the U.S. Senate, those staffing FCI Hazelton deserved the same protection.

As momentum grew, Morrisey, Capito and McKinley joined together on Tuesday to call on Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to help secure point-of-care testing machines for FCI Gilmer and FCI Hazelton, located respectively in Gilmer and Preston counties.

“It’s our number one priority [to protect our communities]. My kids live here, my family lives here, my friends live here and if we can have something to do to stop this, we’re going to do it,” Justin Tarovisky, vice president of AFGE Local 420, said at Saturday’s protest.

Reach Eric Cravey at 304-367-2523.

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