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Inmates in the yard at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center in Carson City on May 19, 2017. Photo by David Calvert.

The Nevada Department of Corrections (NDOC) on Wednesday announced a phased approach for reopening visitation for inmates, beginning on May 1 with COVID-19 safety restrictions in place and then dependent on vaccination levels at individual facilities.

During the first phase of reopening, visitors will be required to schedule appointments ahead of time, and those visiting will be required to arrive 45 to 60 minutes early, as all guests will be subject to temperature checks and a rapid COVID-19 test to ensure they are negative for the virus. Physical contact between inmates and visitors is also prohibited.

On April 27, the department announced through its Facebook page that about one-third of the more than 11,000 NDOC inmates are at least partially vaccinated. Those vaccination numbers are more than double what the department’s medical director announced a week prior, during a Board of Prison Commissioners meeting on April 20.

In a statement, agency Director Charles Daniels noted the importance of reopening visitation for promoting “healthy family cohesion.” Daniels first announced the reopening plans last week.

“While the 14-month suspension of visiting was necessary to limit the spread of the virus into our facilities, the NDOC recognizes the emotional toll it has taken on the spouses, children and friends of the offenders,” Daniels said in the statement. “We recognize the importance of the support each family provides to incarcerated individuals.”

On Wednesday, 11 of the department’s facilities began using an online scheduling system for setting up in-person visitation. The department will enforce six-foot social distancing guidelines and mask wearing, and visitors will be separated from one another by partitions.

There will be a limit of two visitors per visit with an inmate, and those allowed at the prisons must be at least five years old. Visitation appointments may be limited, as the department will have a limited guest capacity, and visiting hours will vary depending on the facility.

The department plans to reevaluate its visitation protocols every 30 days, and if a facility has 75 percent of its population vaccinated, it will move to the second phase. The department has not yet provided specifics about what protocols will be implemented during phase two, but the phase “will have fewer restrictions and larger visiting capacities” than the initial visitation plan.

Once a facility has reached an 80 percent vaccination rate and has low levels of COVID-19 cases after 10 days, that facility will move into phase three, which removes all safety restrictions for visitation.

The department also noted on its visitation website that the phased plan and accompanying safety protocols may change depending on guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the Department of Health and Human Safety and NDOC’s medical director.

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