LINCOLN- Staff members with the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services (NDCS) are undergoing an enhanced screening process in order to be admitted within the agency’s facilities and office buildings. The screen consists of answering a set of questions concerning exposure to someone with COVID-19, recent travel by plane and a list of related symptoms.
“This is the same screening process that we have been using with visitors, contractors and others who require entry into our facilities,” said NDCS Director Scott R. Frakes. “We have now expanded it to include staff members.”
Previously, staff members had been asked to self-assess and report any illness to a supervisor prior to reporting to their worksite. The new process began late last week.
“This helps ensure no one enters a NDCS facility or other work location who has the potential to expose others to the virus” explained Director Frakes.
So far, there have been no confirmed cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) associated with any inmates or staff members. Precautions that have been implemented in the community to reduce transmission of the illness have been mirrored within prison facilities as much as possible.
“For example, we have reduced group sizes to less than 10, and are enforcing social distancing. We have changed our mealtime practices to avoid having large groups of people in the dining halls. Even when inmates are exercising outside, we have directed them to maintain social distancing,” noted Dir. Frakes.
Staff members and inmates have manufactured more than 960 gallons of hand sanitizer through Cornhusker State Industries (CSI). A small portion of the product is being made available directly to staff members, for their own use while on the job. Eighty-five percent of production will be distributed at no cost to other public agencies.
“While soap and water remain the best standard for handwashing, staff being able to carry sanitizer in their pockets is a valuable alternative,” said Director Frakes.
Not unlike those in the community, inmates on work release are also experiencing the impact of job-related loss. “Last week, we suspended the fees that we normally charge for housing, for anyone who was laid off or terminated from their job,” said Director Frakes. “It’s particularly hard for individuals who are preparing for release to realize they are no longer getting a paycheck.”
“We will continue to make decisions consistent with the safety and security of our teammates and inmates,” continued Director Frakes. “The focus remains on flattening the curve of COVID-19 so that our resources remain adequate as we ride out the coming weeks and perhaps, months.”