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COVID-19: Testing campaign for prisons is vital

It appears nearly all the COVID-19 cases in Randolph County are at the state prison in Huttonsville. Keeping it that way — that is, preventing the disease from spreading into communities around the corrections center — must still be a priority for Gov. Jim Justice and other state officials during the next several days, despite the upheaval our country is facing.

Eighty-three Huttonsville inmates and eight staff members had tested positive for the coronavirus last week, Justice reported to the press. Only about a week before that, just one case had been reported inside the prison.

That is less an indication of how quickly COVID-19 spreads than of the disease’s insidious nature. Most of those carrying the virus show few, if any, symptoms. That can allow an explosion in cases such as that at Huttonsville.

Justice said all of the prison’s inmates and staff are being tested. He added that prisoners and employees at all other state corrections centers will be tested.

Good. Formerly, only those displaying symptoms of COVID-19 were being tested. Checking everyone may prevent another outbreak such as that at Huttonsville.

That is important not just to prisoners and corrections center personnel, but to the wider communities.

And certainly, those in the wider communities have a responsbility to continue trying to limit the spread of the virus even as so many gather together to make their voices heard. The risk is real.

Justice is right that, as he stressed last week, prison inmates “deserve to be protected just as much as I deserve or any of us deserves.” But the very nature of penal institutions as incubators for COVID-19 makes isolating the disease there, before it can jump to households outside the prison, critical.

It also makes an immediate full-out testing campaign at other prisons imperative.

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