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People incarcerated in a state correctional facility won’t be able to visit their families or friends in person for at least the next two weeks effective Tuesday, according to a announcement from the Colorado Department of Corrections.

Due to the “highly contagious nature” of the omicron variant, along with staff shortages arising from COVID-19 and virus positivity in facilities, the state corrections department announced in an update posted to their website that all in-person visitation had been canceled effective Jan. 4.

That decision, which department spokeswoman Annie Skinner said was made by department officials with input from local public health agencies, would be reevaluated in two weeks.

“All of our decisions are being based on science right now, and what the science is showing is that omicron spreads very quickly,” she said. “Unfortunately, the best science is showing us we need to try to eliminate people that don't need to be in the prison from coming in the prison right now.”

The department’s update also said that some operations would be modified or halted, and Skinner added that while those operations wouldn’t include essential services, they may include classes or other types of programming incarcerated residents “might normally engage in.”

Those modified or halted operations, she said, would be implemented based on the needs of each facility, but generally would be implemented due to staff shortages stemming from positive cases of or exposure to COVID-19.

According to data as of Tuesday afternoon from Skinner, 374 staff members were “out” due to positive tests, symptoms, and quarantines. That number, she said, has risen every day.

Across all state correctional facilities, Skinner said there were 248 active cases in residents as of Tuesday.

Among the facilities which have seen recent outbreaks, according to department data, were the Sterling Correctional Facility, the Denver Women's Correctional Facility, and the Buena Vista Correctional Complex. Those facilities had seen 26, 14, and five active cases as of Dec. 29, respectively.

Statewide, Coloradans have seen the omicron variant skyrocket to become the most dominant variant of COVID-19. For the week of Dec. 19, according to Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment data, the omicron variant accounted for more than 91% of the state’s cases.

Colorado's also recently seen some of the highest numbers in the pandemic. Between Dec. 29 and Dec. 31, Colorado saw its record for the most cases of the virus reported in one day set and broken three times, eventually landing on a total number of daily cases over 11,000, The Gazette reported.

Skinner said the state corrections department has taken several steps to curb the pandemic in their facilities, including requiring staff to wear masks inside facilities and offices, be tested daily with Binax tests and weekly with polymerase chain reaction tests, and giving masks and offering vaccines to residents.

Skinner said the department also moved its intake facility to a layout more conducive to quarantining in Cañon City, and requires residents to test and quarantine for two weeks before moving into a facility.

Over the next two weeks, the department said, video visitation, phone calls, and “normal mail” will still be available for residents still hoping to connect with people outside their facility.

“Our goal is always to try to allow for inmates to maintain connection with their family,” Skinner said. “We obviously want to be able to get that up and running as soon as we can, but we also really want to make sure that we're keeping our staff safe and our incarcerated population safe, and also the friends and family that come to visit.”

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