As COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to decline in Wyoming, prisons across the state are easing their pandemic policies.
The changes include a return to normal visits, reductions in COVID testing and a framework that outlines when masks can be removed.
In-person visits resumed at all five facilities in early March, the Department of Corrections previously announced.
Around this time, the DOC also increased the number of people who could participate in classes and other group programs. During the pandemic, according to a statement from the department, these were limited to 10 people.
Volunteers can also return to the facilities, but must first complete the required training.
On Monday, the department announced a tiered framework that will now guide COVID policies for prison staff and residents. The levels range from green – the lowest risk – to red, which reflects a relatively high level of spread in the facility or its surrounding community.
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Based on the most recent data available, all but one of the state’s prisons are in counties with low transmission rates, as determined by the CDC.
Honor Farm in Riverton, Fremont County, is still classified as having medium transmission. DOC spokesman Paul Martin said Wednesday that pending this week’s COVID test results, the facility could fall into the orange, or moderate to high, transmission level. This means they are conducting surveillance testing at 20%, as has been done for most of the pandemic, and requiring masks for all residents and staff.
The other four prisons are now at the green level, which does not require masks and testing for COVID only when someone has symptoms. An Honor Preservation Camp inmate told the Star-Tribune that everyone in the prison was still wearing masks on Tuesday.
Martin said prison quarantine and isolation protocol will not change under the new policies.
The levels are also determined by the number of people hospitalized with COVID in Wyoming. As of Tuesday, there were 14, according to the state Department of Health.
In the previous round of testing, 11 people tested positive in state prisons. Five of them were at the Honor Farm, four at the Honor Conservation Camp in Newcastle and one at the Wyoming Women’s Center and Medium Correctional Institution.
If two or more facilities reach the orange or red level, the guidelines say DOC officials will resume weekly testing updates and call facility administrators to manage the response.
The department has also established a tiered plan for local offices, such as those dealing with probation and parole. When transmission is high, all staff will be tested and visitors will be required to wear masks and undergo temperature screening for necessary visits. When it is low, masks and screenings will not be necessary.
Martin said the department does not determine pandemic policies for contracted facilities, including reintegration centers.
Follow city and crime reporter Ellen Gerst on Twitter at @ellengerst.