The Victor Cullen Center, the state Department of Juvenile Services’ only facility in Frederick County, reported its first COVID-19 case this week after an employee tested positive May 15.
The facility, one of only two hardware-secure facilities in Maryland, is designed to house the state’s highest-risk youth offenders and currently houses approximately 14 youth, according to Eric Solomon, a DJS spokesman, who responded to The Frederick News-Post’s questions Wednesday.
A total of five youth and 18 DJS staff members in the department’s 13 facilities in the state have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, with all of the youth and half of the staff having since recovered fully, according to DJS data. Friday’s case was the first positive test for the virus at the Victor Cullen Center, Solomon confirmed.
“Upon the department receiving report of the positive test result, contact tracing was initiated and as a result, the medical director quarantined youth to their individual living units starting on May 15, due to possibility of exposure in the 48 hours before the staff was reportedly symptomatic,” Solomon said.
The employee did have contact with youth in a group activity in the 48 hours before their first symptoms appeared, Solomon said.
In addition to around the clock monitoring by facility staff, nursing staff are checking in with the youth in quarantine twice a day to determine if any of them develop symptoms such as a fever, Solomon said. While the youth are allowed to go outside and leave their rooms, their movement to other areas, such as the cafeteria, gymnasium, and the school was being restricted, Solomon added.
As a precaution all quarantined youth will remain in quarantine, restricted to their own living units, outside areas and the medical facility, for two weeks after their exposure to the staff member, Solomon said. On that schedule, the quarantine will last until May 24.
“Only one youth [has so far] reported a possible symptom of the virus,” Solomon’s statement reads in part. “That youth was tested by DJS and the result was negative, and the youth has since reported that he did not have any symptoms. All youth remain asymptomatic.”
While the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Maryland Council 3 — the state worker’s union that represents about 50 Victor Cullen Center employees — was pleased that actions were taken to quarantine youth and staff, in other ways the positive test just highlighted some of the complaints the union has about how the DJS administration has handled the pandemic.
In a letter sent to Gov. Larry Hogan and others in April, the AFSCME pointed out shortages in personal protective equipment for DJS staff, the need for increased testing for staff and youth as well as a lack of communication between DJS administration and AFSCME employees regarding positive tests. While DJS knew about the positive case May 15, AFSCME employees at Victor Cullen claim they did not, said Katie Mostris, a local AFSCME spokeswoman.
“Our members at VCC say they were not notified by administration formally except the order to lock down cottages and heard through word of mouth yesterday,” Mostris wrote in response to The Frederick News-Post’s questions Thursday.
All staff members are screened prior to beginning work in youth facilities and PPE, including masks, is provided to staff, with masks being universally required, according to Solomon, who also mentioned an announcement by Gov. Larry Hogan on Wednesday evening that the state would be providing increased testing to several specific state agencies and employees, including at DJS facilities.
In regards to Wednesday’s announcement regarding “universal testing” for detainees and staff at state-run prisons and juvenile facilities, among other agencies, the workers’ union remained skeptical.
While pleased that the governor had seemingly acknowledged the importance of increased testing in state-run facilities, the union was concerned that some of the employees in departments it represents were not included, such as department of health and hospital workers. For agencies included, such as corrections and public safety, the release issued late Wednesday also seemed to contradict what the AFSCME was hearing as recently as that morning, Mostris stated.
“We are also interested to know what tests they are using, as some tests have since been shown to have unacceptable accuracy,” Mostris’s statement reads in part. “We hope what is in the governor’s press release is true. We have waited for proper PPE and testing since the governor first declared an emergency in early March. Along the way there have been many promises made and since broken.”