By Michael Hernandez
WASHINGTON (AA) - Federal prisons in the U.S. began a 14-day lockdown Wednesday "in response to a growing number of quarantine and isolation cases" caused by the novel coronavirus.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons said the restrictions, which require inmates to stay in assigned quarters or cells, will be effective for at least two weeks and may be extended.
Limited gathering will be allowed during the lockdown to facilitate access to commissaries, laundry facilities, showers, and computer and telephone areas.
"During this time, to the extent practicable, inmates should still have access to programs and services that are offered under normal operating procedures, such as mental health treatment and education," the prisons bureau said in a statement issued late Tuesday.
The federal prisons agency also said they would be working with the U.S. Marshals Service to limit new prisons arrivals during the lockdown period.
Prisons in the U.S. are run by state and federal authorities with inmates generally being sent to the respective facilities based on whether they were convicted of violating state or federal laws.
Several reports have indicated that U.S. prisons are struggling to cope with the spread of the virus. The Washington Post reported the chief doctor at New York's Rikers Island prison told officials that the facility is a “public health disaster unfolding before our eyes.”
The Los Angeles Times separately said California Governor Gavin Newsom has ordered the early release of 3,500 inmates who were set to be released within the next 60 days to reduce crowding at the state's prisons.
The Times said it obtained documents that indicate state prisons have been locking down entire cell blocks after inmates "exhibit flu-like symptom."
According to Johns Hopkins University, the coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19, has infected more than 883,000 worldwide, including nearly 189,000 in the U.S., and killed over 44,150, including 4,090 in the U.S.
The virus emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December.