A 47-year-old inmate died Saturday after contracting the coronavirus at a Louisiana federal prison where at least five prisoners have tested positive for the virus, officials said.
The death of Patrick Jones marks the first COVID-19 related death of an inmate in the federal prison system, a Bureau of Prisons spokesperson said.
Jones was locked up on drug charges at a minimum-security prison in Oakdale facing a surge in Covid-19 cases, according to the Bureau of Prisons and union leaders.
“The situation is just going to get worse and worse as time goes on,” said Ronald Morris, a maintenance supervisor at the facility and the president of the local union that represent workers at the prison.
“The level of anxiety and fear among our staff is increasing daily,” said Morris, who leads the American Federation of Government Employees Local 1007.
He spoke to NBC News from a hospital where he was monitoring a sick inmate.
Jones was hospitalized on March 19 after complaining of a persistent cough, officials said.
His condition deteriorated rapidly at the hospital where he was placed on a ventilator the next day.
Jones died eight days later. The Bureau of Prisons said he had “long-term, pre-existing medical conditions.”
He had been in custody at the Louisiana prison since April 2017 and was serving a 27-year sentence for possessing crack cocaine for sale within 1,000 feet of a junior college, officials said.
The death is likely to fuel concerns over the vulnerability of inmates and staffers at the nation’s prisons and jails amid the coronavirus pandemic.
As of Friday, at least 14 inmates and 13 staffers have tested positive for the virus across the federal prison system’s 122 facilities, according to the Bureau of Prisons.
The lockup in Oakdale accounts for five inmate cases. Only one other facility has as many cases, the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, New York.
Former prison medical personnel and inmate advocates have been warning for weeks about the likelihood that COVID-19 will spread rapidly inside U.S. detention facilities.
Several jails across the country have released high-risk inmates, but staffers have complained that not enough is being done to protect prisoners and personnel.