Department of Corrections officer dies from COVID-19

VIDEO: Department of Corrections officer dies from COVID-19

A corrections officer at the Monroe Correctional Complex has become the first prison employee to die from the novel coronavirus in Washington State.

On April 12, 65-year-old Berisford Morse was told that he may have been in contact with an infected inmate.

Within two weeks, administrators from the Department of Corrections said he was exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms; a test later showed that he did have the virus.

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Following Morse’s death, inmate advocates said there is a renewed focus on preventing the spread of the coronavirus within prisons.

“We are way under-counting it,” said Udi Ofer of the ACLU. “In places that we are actually testing it, it is a tragic situation and people are going to die."

Earlier this month, a Reuters study found that there were more than 17,000 cases of coronavirus in prisons across the country.

According to that study, corrections officers made up nearly a third of those cases.

Since Morse contracted the virus on the job, he 'is considered to have died in the line of duty.

“An injury or an illness contracted in the line of duty within a certain perimeter would be considered a line -of -duty death,” said Brian Johnson, president of Behind the Badge Foundation., an organization that gives support to loved ones of fallen law enforcement officers.

According to Johnson, a "line-of-duty" death means Morse's family will be entitled to certain assistance like health care and financial support.

In these coronavirus times, he said one of the worst hardships for families is that public memorials aren't allowed because of social distancing.

"We really don't know when we're going to do a memorial service at this point, it continues to extend and magnify the trauma for that family,” said Johnson.

KIRO 7 News reached out to the Washington Department of Corrections to see what they're doing to keep other corrections officers safe.

At airtime, they had not returned KIRO 7’s phone calls.