Jillian Floyd hasn’t seen her son in a year. She is one of many Virginia prisoners experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic in Virginia’s correctional institutions, where thousands of incarcerated people have tested positive for the coronavirus since March, and more than 50 who died also tested positive for the disease.
Floyd, a prisoner at Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women in Fluvanna County, said she talks on the phone every day with her 10-year-old child. She said it is difficult for her son not to see her as he did before COVID-19.
“I used to have video visits with my son, and regular in-person visits too,” Floyd said in an email. “I could see how big he was getting.”
Now, without access to video calls and living in the red zone, an area designated for prisoners who test positive for COVID-19, Floyd said she can’t go outside and that she is expected to stay in her cell. She said she tested positive about two weeks ago. Prisoners in red zones may leave their cells to access phones, kiosks, showers, restrooms, nursing stations, food trays, and laundry, according to Gregory Carter, a spokesperson for the Virginia Department of Corrections.
More than 11,800 prisoners and 4,700 employees have received a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to Virginia Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran. That accounts for approximately half of the prison population. More than 470 prisoners and 210 employees have received a second dose, Moran said.
There are 629 active coronavirus cases as of Thursday among on-site incarcerated individuals, three active cases in hospitals, and 132 active cases among employees, according to VADOC. There have been more than 8,800 total positive COVID-19 cases, and more than 50 prisoners have died who tested positive for COVID-19.
Floyd, among others living in Virginia’s prisons, said she doesn’t think she could get the vaccine right now even if she wanted to.
“Some women have already gotten it but they haven’t told us when we are going to get it,” Floyd said.
Staff is administering two-dose Moderna vaccines, VADOC said in a January news release. The department is offering email stamps, telephone credits, and commissary items that will become available in early March to prisoners who take the vaccine.
“We want all staff and inmates who want the COVID-19 vaccine to get their inoculations as soon as possible,” Director Harold Clarke said in the release. “This effort is important to all in the VADOC community – our staff, inmates, and the community outside the walls, where our staff and inmates’ families live.”
Floyd said she was moved to the yellow zone, a quarantined area for those who may have been exposed to the virus, “in the middle of a freezing cold rain storm” after her previous roommate tested positive for COVID-19. Floyd said she initially tested negative but felt sick after moving to the yellow zone. She was worried she had the virus but wasn’t tested again for days.
“When I finally got tested, I tested positive and was moved to the red zone,” Floyd said. “The nice thing about the red zone is the kind of let us pick who we wanted to live with, so I’m with someone I knew already.”
Floyd said staff removed personal belongings from those moving into the red zone to quarantine the items, but two of her bags were lost in the move. She now sleeps without a pillow under a borrowed blanket and sheet, she said. The state issues linens to prisoners and they may request replacements, Carter said.
Shannon Ellis, an attorney with the Legal Aid Justice Center, a statewide legal aid and advocacy organization, said Floyd’s experience is consistent with what she’s heard from prisoners across the commonwealth.
“I think it’s fair to say that there has been a lot of chaos within [VADOC] in handling the coronavirus,” Ellis said.
Ellis is a co-leading attorney in long-running litigation against Fluvanna Women’s Correctional Center, she said. Ellis’ duties include counseling incarcerated women living in the facility and evaluating healthcare standards following a settlement agreement under which VADOC would improve Fluvanna’s medical care.
Ellis said her legal partners conduct between 100 and 200 interviews with incarcerated women per year, and she receives around 60 emails and letters every week.
Fluvanna Women’s Correctional Center has reported more than 630 COVID-19 cases among prisoners, ranking fifth in total positive inmate cases among the commonwealth’s correctional institutions, according to VADOC data.
“What we’re hearing from our clients at Fluvanna and what I’m hearing from other advocates that work with other facilities around the state is that there’s a lot of vaccine hesitancy that’s being caused simply by poor education and counseling ahead of time with the vaccines,” Ellis said.
Women living in Fluvanna have “had to say yes or no” to the COVID-19 vaccine without the opportunity to consult a doctor or a nurse despite having multiple serious health conditions and medication regimens, Ellis said.
“That’s a big problem,” Ellis said.
Prisoners are able to directly consult with a nurse or a doctor before receiving the vaccine, Carter said.
VADOC follows guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and communicates with local health districts regarding COVID-19 protocol and vaccine rollout, Moran said.
“We feel it’s going smoothly,” Moran said. “So if there are complaints, then you know, we’ll try to address those. But as of now, I’m being told it’s going fairly well in terms of the delivery of the vaccines.”
The Virginia Department of Health began offering COVID-19 vaccines to people living in state prisons and local jails in January, expanding eligibility for who can get the shot under phase 1b of the commonwealth’s distribution plan. For the public, the phase now includes frontline workers, people aged 65 or older, and people living in correctional facilities, homeless shelters, and migrant camps. People aged 16 to 64 years old with an underlying condition were added to phase 1b, though the vaccines aren’t readily available to them yet.
Moran said those in law enforcement, including correctional officers, were a priority in the early days of phase 1b.
“As we went to the prisons to do the correctional officers, it was a matter of operational efficiency … to do all individuals at the facility,” Moran said. “And in recognizing the particularly vulnerable population of those who are in confined spaces, it was determined that we would include inmates for the vaccinations.”
Moran said his office is focused on having an aggressive vaccination and testing program to drive down positive cases in correctional institutions. However, the process is not running smoothly, Ellis said.
“I think that Brian Moran has heard many complaints from advocates and from family members of incarcerated people across the state,” Ellis said.
Some cells in the COVID-19 red zone at Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women don’t have call buttons, Ellis said. This prevents women inside the cell from being able to quickly communicate if they are in a crisis.
“For example, if they’re having difficulty breathing,” Ellis said. “The only way to get attention is by shouting and basically banging on your closed locked cell door to try to get the attention of a guard, which, if you’re in a medical crisis, you may not even be able to do.”
Carter said cell intercom systems are not required by the American Correctional Association, the accrediting body for VADOC. Some facilities have cell intercom systems and some do not.
“Security and medical staff make regular rounds to check the inmates’ status and address specific needs,” Carter said in an email.
Carter said department staff provides mental health resources and services to prisoners. He said services vary by location but generally include periodic newsletters from mental health staff; a toll-free number to ask questions and the opportunity to share concerns and receive information from mental health staff.
“We also provide psychiatric services as needed and other programs and services as needed,” Carter said.
The department uses several methods to educate prisoners on the vaccine. This includes recorded interviews with medical and public safety authorities that are shared with staff and prisoners, Carter said.
“Our health services staff has done tremendous work these last few weeks getting shots into arms,” VADOC Director of Communications Lisa Kinney said in an email.
Regarding VADOC’s incentive packs for those who receive the vaccine, Floyd said it doesn’t change her mind about the shot.
“I think I’m going to get it, but I’m not going to base my decision about whether to take it on free stuff,” Floyd said. “If it gets people to take it that’s great.”
Nicholes Callahan, a prisoner at River North Correctional Center in Grayson County, said he recalls when VADOC offered similar incentives to encourage getting the flu shot in the fall. He said it did not play a part in his decision to get the shot.
“I feel like the incentive pack is a bribe,” Callahan said in an email.
Callahan said he’s unsure if he wants to get vaccinated. He is concerned about the vaccine’s possible side effects.
“Some other inmates have gotten it this week so now I am going to see if they have any immediate side effects,” Callahan said.
Callahan said he was moved into quarantine after his cellmate tested positive for the virus. Prior to COVID-19, he said he would spend the entire day out of his cell with in-person visits and two weekly trips to the gym. Now, he is out of his cell for about three hours a day “if we are lucky,” he said.
“I feel they have done the best they can in River North,” Callahan said. “It would have been nice to not have lost so much rec time in them doing it.”
David Bomber, a prisoner of Nottoway Correctional Center, said he lives in a cell that is about 8 feet tall and 6 feet wide with a sink and a toilet. The cell is designed for one person but he has a cellmate, Bomber said.
“We basically live in a toilet,” Bomber said.
VADOC’s average daily population has decreased from 29,136 in March 2020 to 23,811 in January, Carter said. He did not respond directly to whether one-man cells are used to house more than one prisoner.
Bomber tested positive for COVID-19 in December with about 200 other prisoners, he said. Bomber and roughly 40 other men moved into quarantine in an area that previously served as a restrictive housing unit, Bomber said. These areas are intended to separate prisoners from the general population.
“The conditions were punitive at best,” Bomber said.
Bomber said he received temperature checks twice daily and only suffered from a headache. He’s now out of quarantine and on modified lockdown but doesn’t know if he’s eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
“They’re not putting out no kind of memos; there’s no exchange of information,” Bomber said.
Bomber said he hasn’t heard of incentives for getting the vaccine, but he remembers when he received bags of peanuts and Doritos for getting the flu shot several months ago.
As Bomber spoke on the phone, someone in the background announced with a megaphone that prisoners could sign up for the COVID-19 vaccine.
“I think if they’re going to offer it, I’m going to go ahead and take it,” Bomber said.
By Andrew Ringle
Capital News Service
Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.
Governor Youngkin announces School Choice Proclamation
On January 26, 2022, Governor Glenn Youngkin announced this week as School Choice week, and issued a proclamation highlighting the importance of school choice for Virginia’s students and parents.
“As your governor, I will continually stand up for students and parents and will sign the largest education budget in Virginia’s history. Our goal is that every student will graduate high school ready to go to college or start a great career. Choice and innovation within public education is vital to achieving that goal. That’s why together we will not only raise standards and raise teacher pay, but we will invest $150 million to kick start 20 new charter schools in the Commonwealth. We must empower parents and students with choice and innovation in K-12 public education,” said Governor Glenn Youngkin.
Read a full copy of the School Choice proclamation below.
Virginia School Choice Week
WHEREAS, all children in Virginia should have access to a high quality public education; and,
WHEREAS, Virginia recognizes the important role that a quality education plays in preparing all students in Virginia for success in life; and,
WHEREAS, quality education is critically important to the economic vitality and vibrancy of the communities of the Commonwealth; and,
WHEREAS, students have different needs and learning styles and a monolithic delivery of education does not serve the myriad needs of families;
WHEREAS, Virginia currently has only 7 charter schools, but its neighboring state of North Carolina has close to 200 and the District of Columbia has 123; and,
WHEREAS, School Choice Week is celebrated across the country by millions of students, parents, educators, schools, and organizations to raise awareness of the need for effective educational options.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, Glenn Youngkin, do hereby recognize January 23 – January 29, 2022
as VIRGINIA SCHOOL CHOICE WEEK in our COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA, and
I call this observance to the attention of all of our citizens, and proclaim that:
Virginia must empower parents by creating innovation within K-12 public schools to best adapt to the needs of Commonwealth’s students; and,
Virginia is committed to increasing education options for its youth by seeking $150 million to help meet a goal of starting at least 20 new public charter schools in the Commonwealth; and,
Virginia will build partnerships between the Commonwealth and our great universities to create lab schools of excellence; and,
Virginia will raise education standards to elevate students to high performing levels and reinstitute merit-based acceptance to Governor’s and magnet schools; and,
Virginia will empower parents to make choices about the educational needs of their children.
Virginia Department of Elections releases post-elections report
Recently, the Virginia Department of Elections (ELECT) released its annual post-election report for the 2021 November General Election; this report not only generates a historical record of the election, but it also highlights its successes and areas where improvements could be made.
The November 2021 General Election continued to pose the same challenges election administrators faced in November 2020: an ongoing global health pandemic and a monumental dissemination of misinformation and disinformation about the legitimacy of the electoral process.
Following each November General Election since 2018, ELECT has produced this report to highlight several areas of work done in 2021 to include law and regulatory changes impacting the administration of elections, participation in the election, key challenges/major issues, and election administration tasks completed.
The report also spotlights initiatives such as Virginia’s successful Voter Education and Outreach Campaign and collaborating with partners such as Virginia’s Medical Reserve Corps as well as the United States Postal Service to help mitigate challenges brought on by issues such as COVID-19.
“ELECT produces the post-election report annually to reinforce our agency’s continued commitment to transparency” said Christopher Piper, Virginia Department of Elections’ Commissioner. “We are proud to be able to document the work that the Commonwealth’s election administrators, electoral board members, and ELECT staff do to conduct secure and accurate elections in Virginia.”
The post-election report was presented by Commissioner Piper at the January 18 meeting of the State Board of Elections. You can find a copy of the report on ELECT’s website here.
Governor Youngkin announces updated guidelines for parents, educators, and preK-12 schools
On January 21, 2022, Governor Glenn Youngkin announced updated guidelines for parents, educators, and schools per Executive Order 2, which creates a parental opt-out from mask mandates at both public and private schools in the Commonwealth. The guidelines were developed by the Virginia Department of Health and the Department of Education.
“I have said all along that we are going to stand up for parents. Executive Order 2 is not about pro-masks versus anti-mask, it’s about empowering parents. I am confident that the Virginia Supreme Court will rule in the favor of parents, reaffirming the parental rights clearly laid out in the Virginia code § 1-240.1. In the meantime, I urge all parents to listen to their principal and trust the legal process. If you have any questions or concerns please contact us at email@example.com,” said Governor Glenn Youngkin.
The updated guidance is redesigned around Governor Youngkin’s key principles of parental rights, keeping kids in the classroom five days a week, and keeping kids safe and healthy. The update guidelines:
- Emphasizes alternative mitigation measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 including vaccination, distancing, and outbreak awareness.
- Provides a clear decision tree for parents to review when trying to determine how to keep and return children to the classroom.
- Strongly encourages test-to-stay and other strategies to keep and return kids to the classroom as quickly as possible
- Gives schools practicable flexibility on contact tracing, distancing, and other strategies.
Governor Youngkin announces legislative agenda priorities
RICHMOND, VA—On January 21, 2022, Governor Glenn Youngkin announced the legislation, budget amendments, and initiatives he will be supporting to further his Day One Agenda priorities.
“Today, I am proud to share the more than 59 pieces of legislation and a package of more than 25 budget amendments that I will be supporting. These reflect bipartisan priorities like fully eliminating the grocery tax, doing more to train and equip our workforce, and providing funding to create 20 new innovation schools across the Commonwealth. These initiatives will make Virginia’s communities safer, restore academic excellence, lower the cost of living, and I look forward to seeing these bills come to my desk,” said Governor Glenn Youngkin.
Governor Youngkin announces Covid Action Plan
RICHMOND, VIRGINIA – On January 20, 2022, Governor Glenn Youngkin announced his COVID Action Plan concurrent with Executive Order Number Eleven to provide hospitals, health systems, nursing facilities, and other healthcare providers the tools necessary to combat COVID-19. The plan also includes issuing clear testing guidelines to prioritize the use of COVID rapid tests and marshaling further resources to encourage Virginians to get the vaccine.
“While many families have experienced tragedy over the last two years, Virginians have truly embodied the spirit of Virginia as they came together to fight a common enemy—COVID-19,” said Governor Glenn Youngkin. “Today’s announcements are designed to give Virginians the tools and resources needed to make the best decisions for their families, strengthen our hospital systems, and ensure a strong recovery as we encounter new challenges associated with the pandemic that has become part of our everyday life.”
COVID-19 Vaccine Marshall Plan for Virginia
Governor Glenn Youngkin will devote additional resources and efforts to encouraging the nearly 1.6 million Virginians who are still unvaccinated to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Data shows that people vaccinated from COVID-19 are 4 times less likely to be hospitalized than those who are not. Governor Youngkin’s actions include:
- Directing the Secretary of Health to re-prioritize resources toward vaccine education and outreach, including expanded efforts in disproportionately unvaccinated communities.
- Plan to host and attend COVID-19 vaccine events across the Commonwealth.
- Working with Governors across the country to learn best practices on vaccine education.
- Empowering Virginia with choices, not mandates.
- Expanded Healthcare Flexibility & Support
Governor Glenn Youngkin signed Executive Order #11 to give healthcare providers flexibility and support to battle staffing shortages caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and unconstitutional federal mandates on healthcare workers. Virginia’s hospitals and healthcare facilities are in crisis. Governor Youngkin’s actions include:
- Allowing hospitals and nursing homes to rapidly expand bed capacity by waiving regulations.
- Providing flexibility for qualified out-of-state nurses and healthcare professionals to practice in Virginia.
- Creating appropriate exemptions to the scope of practice requirements to allow healthcare providers to care for patients in this difficult time.
- Expanding the number of providers available to offer the Covid-19 vaccine.
- Expanding flexibility, overtime hours, and availably for personal care workers.
- Prioritized Testing Guidelines
Governor Glenn Youngkin will prioritize testing guidelines to mitigate supply-chain shortages for COVID-19 tests. The Governor will discourage mass testing for the purposes of pre-screening, discourage asymptomatic individuals from testing, and urge healthy individuals with mild symptoms to stay home and use discretion on testing. Governor Youngkin’s actions include:
- Expedite pending orders of rapid tests.
- Redeploy unused tests at state agencies and other non-essential facilities to schools, hospitals, and nursing facilities.
- Directing the State Health Commissioner to issue new guidelines that prioritize the use of rapid tests for key categories including Students potentially exposed to COVID-19 who need to test to remain in school. Essential healthcare professionals and other essential workers needing to be tested to return to work. Vulnerable citizens including those in nursing facilities and over the age of 65. Those with serious medical conditions and their caregivers. Those who need to be tested after consultation with a healthcare provider.
Virginia State Police welcomes 58 new troopers to serve
On Friday, Jan. 21, 2022, the Commonwealth will graduate its 135th generation of Virginia State Troopers. The 58 new troopers will be presented their diplomas during commencement exercises at 10 a.m. at the State Police Training Academy located at 7700 Midlothian Turnpike in North Chesterfield County. Governor Glenn Youngkin will speak at the graduation ceremony.
“Completing the training here at the Virginia State Police Training Academy is no easy feat, and when you add the challenges COVID has brought, the bar is raised even higher,” said Colonel Gary T. Settle, Virginia State Police Superintendent. “These 58 Trooper-trainees have put their heart and soul into becoming the very best troopers they can be. I am impressed with their resiliency and dedication during the last 27 weeks.”
The new troopers have received more than 1,300 hours of classroom and field instruction in more than 100 different subjects, including de-escalation techniques, strategies to assist people in mental health crisis, ethics and leadership, fair and impartial policing, constitutional law, emergency medical trauma care, and public and community relations. The members of the 135th Basic Session began their 27 weeks of academic, physical and practical training at the Academy July 6, 2021.
The soon-to-be graduates of the 135th Basic Session are from every corner of the Commonwealth, as well as Ohio, Oklahoma, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Vermont and the countries of Germany and Mongolia.
Upon graduation, the new troopers will report to their individual duty assignments across Virginia the week of Jan. 31. For their final phase of training, each trooper will spend an additional six weeks paired up with a Field Training Officer learning his or her new patrol area.
135th BASIC GRADUATING CLASS
Name – Hometown – Assignment
- Alijia Danielle Monet Annon – Henrico – Henrico
- Justin Aaron Armes – Stuart – Henrico
- Zachary Cole Bailey – Ewing – Fluvanna
- Stone Lee Baker – Boykins – Surry
- Kennedy Jerome Barbour, Jr. – Williamsburg – James City
- Jonathan Y. Bazil – Lynchburg – Charles City
- Lucas Jeffrey Beall – Accomack – Accomack
- William Brady Blankenship – Powhatan – Culpeper
- Johnathon Daniel Blitz – Richmond – Henrico
- Michelle Lynn Carney – Roanoke – Culpeper
- Christopher John Caudill – Old Bridge – Prince William
- Mark Wade Chamberlain – Mount Airy – Hanover / Henrico
- Jeffrey Michael Dense – Alpine, New York – Fairfax
- Austin Lee Edwards – Pounding Mill – Henrico
- Robert Lane Faulkenberry – Lane, Oklahoma – Dinwiddie
- Dimitrice John Finley – Chesapeake – Springfield
- Justin Carl Grable – Louisa – Clarke
- Nathanael Scott Hall – Forest – Dinwiddie
- Sarah Francis Halperin – Hardwick, Vermont – Norfolk / Virginia Beach
- Jonathan Wesley Hawk – Emporia – Sussex
- Nicholas H. Henderson – Cape May, New Jersey – Prince William
- Logan Allan Hinnant – Fredericksburg – Prince William
- Nicole Noelle Hobbs – Hiltons – Frederick
- Emma Clare Hodge – Powhatan – Norfolk / Virginia Beach
- Alex Jamal Holley – Newport News – Springfield
- Matthew Samuel Honey – Fairfax – Springfield
- Luke J. Horvath – Schenectady, New York – Campbell
- Logan James Houston – Quinton – Mathews
- Steven Rex Huffman – Louisa – Hanover / Henrico
- Brian D. Hurlimann – Rochester, New York – Stafford
- Kenneth Ray Jamison – Danville – Bedford
- Scott Andrew Jeltema – Bitburg, Germany – Springfield
- Jeffrey Scott Keeney – Virginia Beach – Norfolk / Virginia Beach
- Corey James Klak – Chesapeake – Norfolk / Virginia Beach
- Alexis Mykayla Kovach – Chesterfield – Henrico
- Sean Michael Laychak – Springfield – Prince William
- Kortney M. Leazer – Remington – Bedford
- Joo No Lee – Plainview, New York – Springfield
- Griffin Downey Martin – Bracey – Cumberland
- Kortney Evan Terrell McGhee – New York, New York – Highland
- Michael Ryan Middleton – Ashburn – Fairfax
- Chance Allen Morris – Powhatan – Springfield
- Robert Dale Morris – La Crosse – Henrico
- Samuel Patrick Norris – Pulaski – Roanoke
- Alex Hoon Pak – Fairfax – Fairfax
- James Robert Davis Pettry – Big Stone Gap – Bedford
- Andrew Schuyler Poff – Shawsville – Botetourt
- Justin Alexander Ratowski – Hunlock Creek, Pennsylvania – Prince William
- Joshua Tyler Stahl – Toronto, Ohio – Hanover / Henrico
- Malik Rashad Staton – Clinton, Maryland – Prince William
- George Pendleton Stephenson, Jr. – Seaford – Hanover / Henrico
- Eli Steven Thies – Harrisonburg – Henrico
- Gungaajargal Turek – Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia – James City
- Daniel Ryan Urban – Yorktown – Cumberland
- Eric Grant Vitatoe – Haysi – Gloucester
- Alexander B. Wallace – Staunton – Orange
- Matthew Dennis Weinholtz – Buffalo, New York – Fairfax
- Daniel Andrew Wood – Powhatan – Hanover / Henrico