Leaders at the Oregon Department of Corrections said Wednesday the spike in positive cases of COVID-19 outside its prisons poses an obstacle to resuming in-person visits between families and inmates.
Oregon DOC suspended in-person visits at all its facilities March 12 to slow the spread of the disease. It's been months since families, friends and attorneys have been able to meet with people serving sentences.
DOC Director Colette Peters acknowledged the importance of maintaining connections between people in custody and those on the outside.
"It is really difficult for those who are in our care to be without that contact for such a long period of time," Peters said during a call Wednesday. "We will open visiting as soon as it is safe for [adults in custody], visitors and our employees."
In the last 10 days alone, Oregon health officials have reported more than 1,200 new cases of COVID-19.
"Unfortunately, the uptick in positive tests among Oregonians, that you have all seen lately, has not made this decision any easier to make," Peters said. "I'm hopeful we'll start to see a downward trend across the state as we move into the summer months, post flu season. But that's not the case today."
When, or even if, those in-person visits resume, they'll likely be decided on by each prison individually.
While cases outside have surged, inside the Oregon Department of Corrections the rate of new cases has slowed.
Across Oregon's 14 prisons, a total of 175 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19. Of those, 129 have recovered.
The Oregon State Penitentiary — the state's maximum security prison in Salem — "remains our hot spot," Peter said. There 140 inmates there who have tested positive. Of those, 99 have recovered.