BON AIR, Va. (AP) — Coronavirus has erupted inside a juvenile detention center in Virginia with 25 kids testing positive, accounting for a quarter of all cases reported at youth facilities nationwide, officials said Friday.
Children’s rights advocates and health experts have warned state officials for weeks that it was just a matter of time before the virus took off inside juvenile facilities. They have called on Gov. Ralph Northam to start releasing as many children as safely possible from centers, including at the newly hit Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center outside Richmond.
“Unfortunately, those sworn to protect our vulnerable youth have failed,” said Liz Ryan, head of the Washington-based nonprofit Youth First Initiative. “It’s clear that refusing to listen to public health experts has put our youth and communities at extreme risk.”
So far, 97 kids have tested positive nationwide, more than half of them in Virginia and Louisiana.
On April 2, officials in Virginia announced two staffers at Bon Air had tested positive, but contact with residents was limited. A day later, a kid started showing symptoms and later tested positive.
Chris Moon, chief physician at Virginia’s Department of Juvenile Justice, said 21 of the 25 infected kids in Bon Air exhibited no outward symptoms and only four showed signs that were more severe than a cold or a flu.
The facility has around 280 kids, from 11 years old to 20.
“Any resident who tested positive was immediately placed in medical isolation,” Moon said, adding that 13 have already been released.
America locks up more people than any other country in the world, with more than 2.2 million men, women and children in detention. Experts say that prisons and jails can act as petri-dishes for the coronavirus. Social distancing is almost impossible, many institutions have only recently started providing inmates with masks and many do not have access to hand sanitizer.
The coronavirus has already ripped through several adult county jails along with state and federal institutions for adults.