Monday is always light for new cases on account of decreased weekend testing, but the death toll, hospital count and ventilator count were not good.

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More bad news today for families and friends of people in prison — another extension of the visitation suspension, at least until Nov. 13.

The new COVID-19 case count increase of 584 on 8,444 tests was fewer than the 612 reported on Monday last week on 7,606 tests. And a drop in active cases was also positive news.

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The governor’s comment:

“There is a slight decrease in new cases compared to last Monday with an increase in testing. While this is some good news, we are still seeing high numbers of deaths and hospitalizations. During tomorrow’s weekly update, I’ll discuss the state’s winter strategy, and we’ll receive an update about Arkansas schools and hospitals.”

Unfortunately, the news is not good for families of prison inmates who’ve been waiting for the reopening of prisons to visitors, which was suspended in March. I’d been pressing the Department of Corrections for answers for weeks and finally today, the news went out to everyone:

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Visitation to Arkansas Department of Corrections prisons and community correction centers will remain suspended, through November 13, 2020, pending approval of a plan that will be submitted to the Arkansas Department of Health.

We understand how important visitation is for inmates and residents to maintain a bond with their families while incarcerated. The safe resumption of in-person visitation is a priority for the Board of Corrections, Secretary Solomon Graves, and both Division Directors. We greatly appreciate the ongoing patience and understanding of residents, inmates and their loved ones as well as the overwhelming support our staff has received during this public health crisis. While visitation is suspended, we encourage friends and family to remain in contact through phone calls and video visits. To help with that, we have worked with our communications partners to provide lower rates for phone calls and video visitation.

Visitation status updates will be posted on the Department’s website at http://doc.arkansas.gov .

More back story. It took FOI requests, but I finally got some answers from the prison system about the promised move to reopen visitation.

Solomon Graves, the  Corrections Secretary, wrote the Health Department this on Sept. 28:

I wanted to follow-up with you on our plan to reopen our facilities (prisons and community correctional centers) to in-person visitation next month. Along with resuming in-person visitation, we are planning to allow volunteers to come back in on a limited basis in the Division of Correction. That plan is attached.. The following bullets summarize our plan to resume in-person visitation

  • All visitors will be required to sign a waiver acknowledging the risks posed by COVID-19
  • All visitors will receive a COVID-19 symptom screening, to include a temperature check
  • All visitors will Be required to wear a face covering and observe social distancing, at all times
    • Hugging and kissing will be prohibited
    • Barriers will be erected between inmates and their visitors
    • Visitation areas will be marked to enforce 6 to 10 feet of distance between visitation tables
  • Hand sanitizer will be made readily available
  • Vending machine will not be made available and concessions will remain closed
  • Visitation will be by appointment only and limited to 1 hour
  • Each inmate will be limited 2 visitors at a time (18 years and older, immediate family only)
  • Inmates under quarantine will not be allowed to have in-person visitation
  • Visitation areas will be thoroughly cleaned between uses

Please review both plans and advise if they are sufficient for ADH. If there are any changes that need to be made, let me know. Specifically, I am interested in knowing what y’all recommend as a case count sufficient to trigger a suspension of visitation.

 

I also received a copy of the proposal to the Health Department on allowing volunteer access.

After receiving this, I went back to the department and asked about the plan to resume visits in October, since it is now November. Shortly after, the general notice to all media went out.

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The guidelines mentioned by Graves drew questions from those anxious to resume visits about why the development of rules is taking so long.

Before visitation was suspended, the prisons already were asking visitors to sign a waiver and have temperature checks. Masks are, in theory, already mandated statewide. They scoff at the promise that hand sanitizer will be readily available because it is in short supply for inmates. They also object to an hour limit on visits and question the ability of the system to handle the crush of requests for appointments once visitation resumes after a seven-month halt.