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PRESS RELEASE: Third Incarcerated Individual in Washington Dies of COVID-19

Released November 22, 2020

Contact Rachel Ericson (née Noll), (360) 890-0889

DOC Communications

Headshot photo of Michael Cornethan

Michael Cornethan passed away on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020, due to complications from COVID-19.

TUMWATER – On Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020, an incarcerated patient at the Washington State Penitentiary, in Walla Walla, Wash., passed away due to COVID-19 related issues. Michael Cornethan, 62-years-old, had been transported to a local medical facility on Nov. 20, 2020, for treatment of COVID-19 and other health related issues.

“The Department of Corrections is sad to announce its third COVID-19 related incarcerated death,” said Corrections Secretary Stephen Sinclair. “The health and safety of the incarcerated individuals under our jurisdiction, our staff and the community remains our top priority.”

Mr. Cornethan was admitted to the state’s correctional system in May of 1983 to serve his sentence of life without parole, on conviction of aggravated murder out of King County. Mr. Cornethan had been housed in long-term medium custody at the Washington State Penitentiary.

The Penitentiary’s medium security units are currently on quarantine status to further contain the spread of COVID-19 across the incarcerated population and staff. In August, the facility began COVID-19 testing of all staff within the facility on a weekly basis and have tested all of the incarcerated individuals housed at the Medium Security Complex.

The earlier two COVID-19 related incarcerated individual deaths occurred in June of 2020. The department documents COVID-19 related deaths on its website.

As of November 21, 2020, the Washington State Penitentiary has:

  • 38 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among staff and 110 confirmed cases among the incarcerated population;
  • 117 individuals in isolation, meaning the individuals have symptoms and are separated from healthy people; and,
  • 559 individuals in quarantine, meaning they were exposed but do not have symptoms, and are separated from healthy people.

The Washington State Department of Corrections continues to follow established COVID-19 Screening, Testing and Infection Control Guidelines (pdf) as the department works to contain and mitigate any spread of the virus.