Schuylkill County Prison officials didn’t report a single case of COVID at the facility for nearly 9 months of the pandemic.
Despite this, Schuylkill County Commissioners voted last year to spend more than $1 million on a new HVAC system at the historic lockup in Pottsville.
And just as the system was due to come online, the prison was hit with the first reported cases of COVID-19 within its walls.
Schuylkill County Prison Reports 18 Cases of COVID-19 in December
In defending the decision to use CARES Act money to purchase this equipment, Commissioners were told and bought the story that special technology included in this HVAC system would help prevent the spread of and even kill the coronavirus.
They were preparing for a problem that didn’t exist at the time. Now, that new HVAC system is being tested.
On Dec. 22, the county reported that 3 staff members had tested positive for COVID and were classified as “symptomatic”. Further, 15 inmates had also tested positive. Of those, 8 were symptomatic and 7 were asymptomatic.
Now, it could be that the HVAC system wasn’t fully online when these infections were contracted and that means the new ventilation would have its first major test in a hurry. Or, the system the county purchased really didn’t live up to its billing.
Commissioners have said in the recent past that the new HVAC system was expected to be in place by the end of 2020.
The HVAC system at the prison was one of several questionable spending decisions made by Schuylkill Commissioners last year using the more than $12.7 million CARES Act funding the county received. When the project was first proposed, the price tag was at about $770,000. But by the time the Commissioners voted on approving the purchase, the price tag jumped by more than $400,000.