House Democrats Call For Corrections Employees To Be Tested Regularly For COVID-19

Sep 14, 2020

Democrats in the State Legislature are asking Gov. Kevin Stitt to require state prison employees be tested for COVID-19, but the Oklahoma Department of Corrections claims requiring testing would be illegal.

Arguing for prison staff testing, House of Representatives Minority Leader Emily Virgin cited worrisome outbreaks at several prisons in a letter to Stitt.

On Wednesday, more than 700 prisoners had COVID at just one women’s prison in Taft. Corrections workers who come and go daily are a primary avenue for COVID to get inside a prison.

Department of Corrections Director Scott Crow says the agency asks employees to get tested and will provide them tests, but he says it isn’t legal to require testing.

"There’s not statutes that bar us from doing that but, because it’s their own medical, their personal medical care and medical treatment we do not have the ability to force them to take the test," Crow said.

Virgin says there is no legal basis for that argument.

"Other states have already implemented staff testing programs to protect their communities," Virgin said. "Oklahoma must follow suit."

As of this week, 225 corrections employees had tested positive for COVID since the beginning of the pandemic.

Several prisons with the highest number of sick employees have also had the highest number of sick prisoners.