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Some corrections officers say they’ll quit before getting COVID shot

Updated December 9, 2020 - 9:44 pm

Some Nevada corrections staff say they would rather quit than be forced to take the COVID-19 vaccine, department officials told the state Sentencing Commission on Wednesday.

In an update on the COVID outbreak’s impact on the state prison system, officials also told the commission they were working on draft legislation for the upcoming 2021 session that would compel inmates to be vaccinated, similar to a standing requirement that they submit to a test for tuberculosis.

Nevada’s first allocation of COVID vaccine is expected to be available next week. Corrections personnel in Nevada are included in the first tier of potential recipients under the state’s vaccination playbook.

But responses to a staff advisory about the imminent availability of a vaccine showed some would refuse it.

“We did get some employees that were willing to quit if they were forced to take the vaccination,” Christina Leathers, the department’s head of human resources, told the commission. “So we’re definitely treading lightly on this topic.”

She did not say how prevalent opposition to receiving the vaccine was among staff.

Prison COVID numbers

In a roughly hourlong discussion, Corrections Director Charles Daniels also provided updated numbers for COVID cases within the system, which has 2,700 staff and, as of Tuesday, housed 10,251 inmates.

Among staff, 189 have tested positive for COVID-19 and are in isolation and 217 others are in quarantine. Seven are currently hospitalized and two have died.

Among inmates, 1,237 have tested positive for COVID-19 and are in isolation. Another 2,971 are in quarantine, while eight are currently hospitalized and five have died.

Citing statistics gathered by the The Marshall Project, Daniels said Nevada’s prison system was doing better with its COVID response than roughly 80 percent of its peers. It ranks 38th lowest in total cases and 42nd lowest in cases per 10,000 inmates.

He pushed back against charges that the department’s response to the COVID crisis within its facilities is lacking or deficient.

“I think, when you look at our data, we’ve done extraordinarily well,” Daniels said. He noted that his father died of COVID-19 two weeks ago, followed five days later by his father’s wife.

“It’s somewhat heartbreaking to hear people think that we don’t take this seriously, and we’re out to hurt their loved ones,” Daniels said. “That’s completely untrue and I’m going to push back on that. I’m very, very proud of the fact that my staff do tremendous work and they still have to deal with the issues that impact the lives of their families, just like the people that are wanting us to do the best for their families.”

Other updates

The Corrections Department is now testing all inmates on a weekly basis.

Violent and nonviolent offenders who test positive are never housed together.

All state inmates housed in private facilities in Arizona were returned to Nevada as of mid-November.

The current prison population is down at least 2,000 from earlier this year in part due to delays within the justice system on enforcement and adjudication caused by pandemic-related slowdowns, Daniels told the commission.

“I don’t want anybody to think that the decline in the population of the prison is going to be some permanent relief,” said Supreme Court Justice James Hardesty, who chairs the Sentencing Commission. “Probably the opposite is going to be true once many of the cases that are pending are finally resolved by plea or by trial.”

Contact Capital Bureau reporter Bill Dentzer at bdentzer@reviewjournal.com. Follow @DentzerNews on Twitter.

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