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Oct 8, 2020

Inmates at Central Prison Aren’t Safe from COVID-19

The coronavirus is also spreading at the congested Hattieville prison. Test results show that eight inmates have the virus so far and results for fifty-four samples are pending. It is likely that the spread started from a warden who was on holiday in the north. Today, alarm bells sounded when a prison officer suffering from hypertension was found dead but it is yet to be confirmed if he died from coronavirus related complications. Prison authorities have moved to transfer those who carry the virus to a separate facility. News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports.


Isani Cayetano, Reporting

An outbreak of coronavirus disease amongst the inmate population at the Belize Central Prison is a serious concern for the Kolbe Foundation as the dreaded pandemic continues to knock at their doors.  On October second, prison officials began recording cases of COVID-19 amongst wardens.  It has since made its way farther inside the facility.


Virgilio Murillo

Virgilio Murillo, C.E.O., Kolbe Foundation

“Since we came across the first case on the twenty-eighth of September, we went on this contact tracing exercise and to date we have conducted a total of two hundred and fifty-seven tests as a result.  The breakdown of that is a hundred and fifty-two rapid tests and a hundred and five PCR tests.  We have received results for the hundred and fifty-two rapid tests that were done amongst prisoners and staff and of those hundred and fifty-two rapid tests that were done, eight prisoners overall tested positive for the virus.”


The transmission, it is believed, was from prison staff to inmates, as the first case was that of an officer who was on vacation in northern Belize around mid-September.


Virgilio Murillo

“Of the PCR tests, we have done fifty-one for which we have received results for.  That is the one that shows six prison officers being tested positive for the virus.  So that is how it stands as it relates to tests.  We still have fifty-four PCR tests for which we are awaiting results and I hope that we should get those by the end of today.  So when I measure my numbers thus far, I see where the community, they’re above twenty percent average in terms of positive tests when measured against the number of tests conducted.”


To make matters worse, a prison officer identified as Shawn Bainton passed away this morning in Ladyville.  Despite testing negative on two previous occasions, many believe that his death may have something to do with the virus.


Shawn Bainton

Virgilio Murillo

“The gentleman in question, coincidentally he was one of the persons assisting with the escorting of prisoners to be tested as part of this contact tracing that we’ve been doing over the last few days and right up to yesterday he was escorting.  What I can tell you is that he had conducted, or we had done two tests on him.  We had conducted a PCR test on him which turned out negative and I think that was done, if I’m not mistaken, I think that was done either Monday or Tuesday and the results came back either yesterday or probably the Tuesday if that was done on Monday and it showed up as negative.”


According to Chief Executive Officer Virgilio Murillo, several tests were conducted on prison officers following the initial detection.  Bainton, he says, has pre-existing conditions stemming from hypertension.  Although his death may not be COVID-related, a posthumous test is also expected.


Virgilio Murillo

“When we did a bunch of other PCR tests on prison officers, the one that had revealed that there were two prison officers more that were infected, because he was interacting with those guys we decided to put him through another test.  This time around we did what you call one of the rapid tests from the Ministry of Health and that itself turned out negative again.  So I feel confident that it is not a COVID-related death.  He certainly had pre-existing conditions and that may have contributed to him passing [away], unfortunately.”


Insofar as the other patients behind bars, Murillo says that they are not displaying obvious symptoms of COVID-19.


Virgilio Murillo

“The prisoners who have been tested positive, for the most part they would be what you call asymptomatic because they are not displaying any symptoms, so to speak.  One prisoner, I recall, had an excessively high fever and he was given an injection and ever since that injection was given, his fever has not shot up back again.  And then there was one prisoner who had diarrhea or vomiting, one out of the two, and since they were treated for the diarrhea or vomiting we have not heard of them continuously vomiting again.”


Prisoners who have tested positive for COVID-19 are quarantined in a separate facility on the compound, away from other inmates. Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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