By Ray King

Two-hundred thirty-one inmates at the Randall Williams Unit of the Department of Corrections in Pine Bluff have tested positive for COVID-19, according to D.O.C. Director Dexter Payne.

Speaking during Governor Asa Hutchinson’s daily press conference on COVID-19 Saturday, Payne said a total of 515 inmates at the unit were tested, and the results were negative for 155 of them. Results for another 129 are still pending.

Payne said the unit has been placed on lockdown with inmates who test positive moved to barracks with other inmates who test positive and inmates who test negative moved to barracks with other inmates who test negative.

He also said that because there are two other correctional units in close proximity to the Randall Williams Unit, it is easier to control an outbreak of COVID-19. Those units are the Pine Bluff Unit and the Barbara Ester Unit, which can help with feeding inmates. Two inmates from the Randall Williams Unit have been hospitalized.

In the pat 24 hours, a total of 115 new cases of COVID-19 were reported with 75 of them at the Randall Williams Unit, and the remaining 40 in communities across the state. There have been no new hospitalizations, with that number remaining at 65 and the death total remains at 98.

State Health Officer Dr. Nate Smith said 1,088 cases are considered active with 370 of them in correctional facilities, another 101 in nursing homes and the remaining 537 in the community. A total of 3,472 are considered to have recovered.

Smith also said that federal authorities are expected to complete all the testing at the Federal Correctional Institute at Forrest City Saturday. A total of 473 inmates at that facility tested positive for COVID-19.

Payne also reported that at Cummins Prison, where 872 inmates tested positive, 860 of them are now considered to be recovered and prison officials are now able to resume feeding in chow halls for those inmates who are considered recovered rather than trying to feed them in their barracks.

On Friday, Hutchinson said he was not planning to hold press conferences over the weekend but notified the media at about noon Saturday that he would be speaking at 1:30 p.m. When he did, in additional to reporting the numbers from the Randall Williams Unit, the Governor said officials detected a possible security incident in the on-line system that was built to receive claims for pandemic unemployment insurance.

Hutchinson said it appeared that someone had been able to illegally access the system which has now been shut down until outside forensic experts can determine if the personal data of people filing for the insurance had been accessed.-19