Federal prison officials reported their first coronavirus-related death Saturday, saying a 49-year-old drug offender succumbed at a Louisiana hospital.
Patrick Jones, who had been serving a 27-year term at the Oakdale Federal Correctional Institution, was first evaluated March 19 after complaining of a persistent cough and was transported to a hospital where he tested positive for the virus.
The following day, officials said, Jones' condition worsened and he was placed on a ventilator.
Jones, who authorities said had "long-term, pre-existing medical conditions" placing him at greater risk, was pronounced dead by hospital officials Saturday.
The inmate had been housed at the low-security Oakdale facility since April 2017.
His death comes just days after Attorney General William Barr directed federal prison authorities to begin identifying more elderly and medically compromised inmates for home confinement to avoid a larger outbreak of the coronavirus inside the agency's 122 institutions.
Officials reported Sunday that 14 inmates and 13 staffers have tested positive for the virus.
Lawmakers and civil rights advocates have urged the Justice Department in recent days to reduce the number of vulnerable prisoners who would be most at risk of infection inside the nation's largest detention system.
Barr acknowledged that there were rising "concerns" for the plight of the 170,000 federal prisoners and the 36,000 staffers who are in regular and close contact with the inmates everyday.
While the attorney expressed confidence in the agency's capacity shield prisoners from disease, he said "there are some at-risk inmates who are non-violent and pose minimal likelihood of recidivism and who might be safer serving their sentences in home confinement rather than in BOP facilities."
Barr's directive also follows the actions of an increasing number of state and local officials who have released hundreds of prisoners from jails to guard against larger outbreaks in their facilities.