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COVID-19 deaths among Nevada prisoners skyrocket in January

The number of Nevada prisoners reported to have died of the coronavirus is four times higher than it was a week ago, state data shows.

By Thursday, the state had reported that 40 prisoners have died of the virus, according to data posted to the Department of Health and Human Services’ website. The number of deaths has skyrocketed since Jan. 7, when state data had recorded only eight deaths.

The Department of Corrections did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The increase is partly due to reporting delays from the prison system, and the state’s coronavirus website was recently updated to reflect additional deaths, according to an emailed statement from Tim Robb, a spokesman for Gov. Steve Sisolak’s COVID-19 response team.

“(The Department of Corrections) is working with the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services to remedy these inefficiencies in order to meet the requirement of timely reporting,” Robb said.

No new prison deaths or cases were recorded on Friday, state data shows.

Only three other states — Michigan, Kentucky and New Mexico — have reported more per capita prisoner deaths from the coronavirus, according to data last updated Thursday from the Marshall Project, which tracks COVID-19 cases and deaths within federal and state prisons. The Marshall Project had only recorded 39 prisoner deaths in Nevada as of Thursday.

The most fatalities have occurred at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center in Carson City, where the state has reported 19 deaths, according to the health department. The second-highest death toll is at Lovelock Correctional Center in Pershing County, which has recorded 12 fatalities.

Both are medium-security prisons with a capacity of about 1,600 people, according to the Department of Corrections’ website. The Lovelock prison also houses minimum-level prisoners.

Although the facilities have a high number of deaths, neither has the highest number of coronavirus cases. The most cases have been recorded at Warm Springs Correctional Center, where it was reported in November that nearly 90 percent of the facility’s prisoners had tested positive for the virus.

As of Friday, the state had recorded 479 prisoners at Warm Springs Correctional Center who have tested positive.

The other coronavirus deaths have been reported at High Desert State Prison, where seven have been recorded, along with Ely State Prison and Southern Desert Correctional Center, each of which have reported one.

The first five prisoner deaths were publicized Dec. 9 during a meeting of the state’s Sentencing Commission. Prisoner death notices posted to the Department of Corrections’ website do not include why a person died, so it remained unclear Friday how the reporting delays compare to the number of COVID-19 deaths recorded by the prison system.

As of Friday, Nevada had reported four Department of Corrections employees have died from COVID-19, two more than this time last week, state data shows. Casa Grande Transitional Housing and Florence McClure Women’s Correctional Center, both in the Las Vegas Valley, have reported one staff death each. Two employees at High Desert State Prison, also in Southern Nevada, have also died.

Employees will receive COVID-19 vaccinations at the same time as other public safety employees, while prisoners will be vaccinated “in the same age and health condition prioritization as the public,” Robb said.

Contact Katelyn Newberg at knewberg@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0240. Follow @k_newberg on Twitter.

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