The Delaware Department of Correction announced this week that an inmate at Sussex Correctional Institution in Georgetown had died after being infected with COVID-19. DOC officials reported that John W. Rosciolo, a 78-year-old inmate with underlying health conditions, had died on Friday, July 24, at Bayhealth Hospital’s Kent campus, from complications from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), coronary artery disease and COVID-19.

In a statement released July 24, DOC spokesman Jason Miller said that, after registering a fever on July 5, Rosciolo received a rapid COVID-19 test. DOC had previously tested all inmates after a cluster of cases was identified.

After his positive COVID-19 test result was returned, Miller said, Rosciolo was transferred to James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, where he initially received treatment in the prison infirmary and in the facility’s COVID-19 Treatment Center. On July 9, as his symptoms developed, Miller said, Rosciolo was admitted to Bayhealth Hospital’s Kent campus for treatment, where his family was engaged in treatment decision-making.

Rosciolo’s body was subsequently released to the Delaware Division of Forensic Science to determine his cause of death, which included the COVID-19 infection.

Rosciolo, from Millsboro, had been in DOC custody since 1978 and was serving a life sentence for second-degree murder.

His death was announced as the DOC also released figures showing that 75 percent of the inmates who had tested positive for COVID-19 after universal testing at SCI earlier in July had recovered and that 90 percent of those who had tested positive remained symptom-free. As of July 24, only 18 inmates with COVID-19 at SCI and one other facility were displaying any symptoms. Five of those inmates were hospitalized, and two were being treated in prison infirmaries, according to Miller.

Of the 308 staff members at SCI, Miller said last week that “fewer than 10” were in self-isolation awaiting COVID-19 test results. He added that the DOC “has maintained sufficient staffing” at SCI, partly by borrowing security staff from other facilities, who volunteered for the temporary assignment.

As of July 22, 53 DOC staff members across the state had tested positive for the virus. According to a statement from the DOC, 1,200 employees had been tested; among staff members and healthcare contractors, 101 had tested positive and since recovered from COVID-19.

Since the first COVID-19 cases were identified at SCI, DOC leadership has worked to convert the prison’s Key housing unit into a COVID-19 Treatment Center. The building was chosen for several reasons, Miller said. Its housing and administrative areas are air-conditioned, and the unit is divided into four sections, which allows for separation of inmates by the severity of their illness.

Incoming inmates are screened for COVID-19 and isolated for 14 days, Miller said. Extra daily cleaning procedures have been instituted in all DOC facilities, including the use of fogging machines to disinfect entire rooms of common areas, as well as housing units and work spaces.

In addition, correctional officers began wearing masks on April 10; and each inmate has been given two washable masks, Miller said.

Some interruptions have occurred in normal services at the prison, including one recent week when prison laundry service was stopped for four days, Miller said. Since then, inmates have been receiving two full sets of clothing each week, with additional laundry service available as needed, he said.

Other changes in routine have included a no-visitors policy and the elimination of programs available to the inmates that would be difficult to continue within social-distancing guidelines. Arrangements were being made to provide some of that programming remotely, when possible, Miller said.

On Thursday, July 16, some inmates in the asymptomatic tier of SCI’s COVID Treatment Center allegedly began throwing “lockers and larger items” from an upstairs balcony and against a doorway, according to Miller.

Correctional officers responded, he said, “with a targeted use of pepper spray to clear that immediate area.” Miller added that the correctional officers’ actions to “neutralize that behavior … without the use of force” were successful and that no further action was needed.

The following Sunday, July 19, a group of family members of inmates held a demonstration near SCI along Route 113, in response to the recent outbreak of COVID-19 in the prison. Miller said the DOC provided a designated area off the roadway, near the prison entrance, and told the demonstrators “we support their right to express themselves.”

Updated information on the DOC response to COVID-19 can be found online at Cases.pdf.

Staff Reporter

Kerin majored in journalism at Ohio University and has worked as an editor and reporter for monthly, daily and weekly publications in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Delaware since 1983. A native of Baltimore, Md., she has lived in Ocean View since 1996.