A prisoner in the Ongole District Jail in Andhra’s Prakasam district was found to have COVID-19, leaving authorities puzzled about the source of infection. The patient is a 22-year-old man who was brought to the prison on April 12. Nearly 45 days after entering the jail, he developed a fever, after which he was admitted to RIMS Hospital in Ongole. His COVID-19 tests came back positive on Friday night.
Ongole District Jail Superintendent INH Prakash said that the patient had been arrested from Bhavanipuram in Vijayawada in a robbery case. As the case had been registered in Ongole Taluka Police Station, he was brought to the Ongole prison. “Any inmate who enters the jail is being kept in isolation for a month in a separate building that has around 10 cells, away from the main barracks. This patient was also sent there to stay in an isolation cell for a month,” Prakash said.
After one month, two other men who had been brought in along with the 22-year-old were sent to the main barracks where they were quarantined for another 15 days, said Prakash. “But this man refused to move to the main barracks and opted to stay in the isolation cell,” he said.
Speaking about tracing the source, Prakash said that all the inmates are being tested, and if the two men who were brought in with the patient are found to have COVID-19, there might be a possibility that they had contracted the disease before being lodged in the jail. However, that seems very unlikely, he says, as they have been inside the jail for more than 45 days.
The other possibility, which is more likely, is that someone who was brought into the isolation ward of the prison temporarily might have come in contact with the patient and passed on the infection. “Any new entrant to the jail is being sent to the isolation ward for the first 30 days. Some of them are released within a couple of days on bail. One of these people may have been the source of infection too,” Prakash said.
Around 25 people who were in the isolation cells could have come into primary contact with the patient, according to the Superintendent. However, samples have been collected from all 58 staff members and 141 prisoners in the jail, and the results are expected on Monday.
Superintendent Prakash said that as there is no provision to make COVID-19 tests mandatory for new prisoners, anyone who is asymptomatic would have to be let in. “Since rapid test kits were procured by the government, we have been insisting on performing Truenat or rapid antibody tests on new entrants. But since these tests are not entirely accurate, there’s no way to know for sure,” Prakash said.