37 at SeaTac federal detention center infected with coronavirus

The Federal Detention Center in SeaTac says it has a cluster of coronavirus infections among inmates and staff.

As of Thursday, 31 inmates and six staff members at the facility had tested positive for the virus, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, The Seattle Times reported.

No deaths or hospitalizations have been reported, according to prison and public health officials.

“We tried like hell to keep it out,” said U.S. District Court Chief Judge Ricardo Martinez. “We were successful for a long time. But it’s there now, and it’s a serious situation.”

Martinez said the infections likely will keep local federal courts closed for another month. They had been set to open for limited trials and in-person hearings after Sept. 8, when his latest shutdown order expires.

The federal courthouses in Seattle and Tacoma have been closed since early March, resulting in trial delays and in some defendants being locked up for months awaiting court dates.

The first COVID-19 infection at the facility was reported July 22 in a staff member, according to a prisons spokesperson. The first inmate tested positive on July 30.

Confirmed infections didn’t increase rapidly until the past couple of weeks, according to Michael Filipovic, the federal public defender for Western Washington, who has been tracking the outbreak.

“I am very concerned for the health and safety, and actually the lives of our clients that are in the federal detention center,” Filipovic said. He said he’s also worried for staff.

Eighteen inmates were exposed before booking, while 10 were exposed during the period when a staff member was infectious, according to Sharon Bogan, a spokesperson for Public Health – Seattle & King County, who on Thursday did not have information on the remaining cases.

“With the information we have currently, we do not believe there is spread among the general population of inmates within the facility,” Bogan said in an email.

The SeaTac detention center holds about 600 inmates, including persons awaiting trial on criminal charges, and others who are serving sentences.

In an email, Bureau of Prisons spokesperson Emery Nelson said the prison system has taken steps to minimize spread of the virus, including canceling visitations and limiting transfers between facilities.

Nationally, according to the Bureau of Prisons, 116 people held in federal prisons and detention centers have died after contracting COVID-19, as has one Bureau of Prisons staff member. An additional 10,400 inmates and nearly 900 staff have had infections but recovered. That’s out of more than 140,000 persons in custody and about 36,000 staff, the bureau said.