CHARLESTON — West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and local Preston County officials received confirmation Wednesday evening from the deputy director of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons that no prisoner testing positive for COVID-19 will be transported to FCI Hazelton in Preston County.
The Bureau of Prisons confirmed that prior to any transfer all prisoners would be tested with point-of-care technology and any prisoner with a positive test result would not be transferred to FCI Hazelton.
“I am grateful that we are making progress and will continue to work to ensure that the Bureau of Prisons lives up to this promise to West Virginia,” Attorney General Morrisey said. “While much work remains, a concrete promise from the feds to test and operate under CDC guidance and not transfer any positive testing prisoners represents a step forward. We cannot and must not replicate the mistakes that plagued the Gilmer transfer. We must keep West Virginia safe.
“It is our understanding that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will be making additional tests and rapid testing processing machines available in order to dramatically increase the Bureau’s test kits nationally,” he added.
The Attorney General was joined on Wednesday’s call by local officials – Preston County Commission President Samantha Stone, Preston County Prosecutor Mel Snyder, Preston County Public Health Officer Dr. Fred Conley and FCI Hazelton Warden Bryan Antonelli.
“Last night, the Bureau of Prisons, state officials and the Preston County Commission took another step forward in our efforts to protect West Virginia citizens,” said Commission President Stone. “However, we must still guarantee that the Bureau’s promise to test all inmates prior to any transfer – and only transfer negative COVID-19 inmates – will be maintained.”
Attorney General Morrisey, Commission President Stone and other Preston County officials, along with U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito and U.S. Rep. David B. McKinley have pushed for confirmation that no prisoners testing positive for COVID-19 would be transferred into West Virginia.
The Wednesday evening conversation orally confirms that position, but West Virginia will continue to push for proven compliance.
The Attorney General and Commission President stood in solidarity with prison workers and community members Saturday at a rally near FCI Hazelton. There he called for increased testing, saying if rapid testing was good enough for the U.S. Senate, those staffing FCI Hazelton deserved the same protection.
As momentum grew, Attorney General Morrisey, Sen. Capito and Rep. McKinley joined forces Tuesday in calling upon Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to help secure point-of-care testing machines for FCI Gilmer and FCI Hazelton, located respectively in Gilmer and Preston counties.