Fewer than 50% of inmates, prison staff vaccinated; $500 bonus offered to workers

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There are fewer than 60 active cases of the coronavirus in Colorado’s prisons, according to state data, as health and corrections officials prepare mass vaccination clinics and offer a $500 bonus to employees to get inoculated.

General eligibility opened Friday, which will cover every inmate over the age of 15 who hasn’t already received one. The state’s already offered mass vaccination clinics and will continue them in the coming weeks, a spokeswoman said.

There’s quite a ways to go: Fewer than 50% of inmates have been vaccinated. There’s a similar number for prison staff, a more concerning figure, considering that they’ve been eligible for doses for weeks. To encourage uptake, the state Department of Corrections is offering $500 bonuses to its employees, spokeswoman Annie Skinner confirmed.

The low number of cases — just 58 active in all — indicates a significant slowing of disease spread in the prisons. Those facilities have long been the sites of the largest outbreaks, with 8,800 people testing positive over the past year. It’s unclear, though, if the virus has slowed because of infection control measures or because the disease has simply run out of people to infect.

The low case load is especially encouraging because the prison in Buena Vista, where the South African variant was first discovered, has no active cases, and no new South African cases within that facility have been identified. The spread of that strain in the prison was particularly concerning because at least one inmate was infected after previously testing positive for COVID.

To respond to that case, the state launched a mass vaccination clinic at Buena Vista, well ahead of schedule. More than 85% of the population there received the vaccine. 

In-person visitation is still restricted in Colorado’s prisons, though officials “will be reviewing the visitation plans in the coming months” as vaccinations increase and — it is hoped — disease spread slows.