The number of COVID-19 cases at the Lompoc Federal Correctional Complex jumped dramatically on Thursday after expanded testing boosted numbers.
The number of COVID-19 cases at the Lompoc Federal Correctional Complex jumped dramatically on Thursday after expanded testing boosted numbers. (Bureau of Prisons photo)

The total number of COVID-19 cases involving inmates at the Lompoc Federal Correctional Complex has rocketed above 650, reportedly after expanded testing at one site, according to the Bureau of Prisons update Thursday. 

The biggest jump occurred at the Federal Correctional Institution, which reported 541 positive cases — up from 52 two days earlier — among inmates. It also reported 11 staff cases, while three FCI staff members have recovered.

The low-security FCI houses 1,162 male inmates, so the outbreak has affected about 47 percent of the facility’s population. Two days earlier, the FCI had 52 positive cases among inmates.

Next door but also part of the complex, the U.S. Penitentiary and its Satellite Prison Camps claimed to have 33 positive cases, including 14 involving staff members. 

Additionally, USP reported that 78 inmates and six staff members have recovered. The medium-security USP and minimum-security camps house 1,542 inmates.

The USP also has reported two inmate deaths related to COVID-19, pushing Santa Barbara County’s total to 10. 

The Lompoc federal prison complex reportedly discovered the first positive case sometime in March.

On Thursday, the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department reported that the federal prison inmates accounted for 272 cases among the county’s total of 722. 

Additionally, the county’s tally recently began referring to “suppressed data” regarding ages of patients and recovery statuses, apparently related to prison staff trying to quash the release of data regarding inmates despite the public health emergency. 

Earlier this week, Lompoc officials announced plans to implement universal testing at the FCI after purchasing test kits administered by health services staff and with lab work contracted by a private company. 

“This robust testing will assist FCI Lompoc in slowing transmission by identifying those asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic individuals who may be carrying the virus unknowingly and separating them from those who test negative, thus preventing these COVID-positive inmates from transmitting the virus to others,” prison officials said in a written statement. “This is a key factor to mitigating the spread of COVID-19. An additional benefit and expected outcome of this proactive strategy is to shorten the overall quarantine period during the span of the pandemic.”

The statement warned that testing 100 percent of the FCI inmate population “may significantly increase” the number of COVID-19 positive cases reflected on the BOP website. 

A small percentage are experiencing acute or chronic illness, and the majority have mild or no symptoms. 

“Social distancing inside a prison is difficult to achieve, especially with an open dormitory-style setting. FCI Lompoc tackled this challenge by placing over 250 beds in alternative housing to create space and serve as quarantine locations,” BOP officials said. “On the prison grounds, multiple temperature-controlled field-living quarters are being utilized for housing. Additionally, the gymnasium, chapel, visiting room and the decommissioned prison industry factory have been repurposed to accommodate inmate housing.”

Inmates also have been restricted from using telephones and email stations, steps taken to avoid the transmission of the virus by multiple people touching keyboards and handsets. 

Friends and families are encouraged to continue corresponding by mailing letters through the U.S. Postal Service. 

Among the 140,369 federal inmates in BOP-managed institutions and 11,161 in community-based facilities, the agency reported that 2,646 federal inmates and 244 staff members yielded positive test results. 

Currently, at BOP facilities across the nation, 591 inmates and 278 staff have recovered. 

The two Lompoc fatalities were among 44 inmate deaths that the BOP attributed to COVID-19.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.