Dr. Jennifer Clarke is leaving her position as Medical Director for Rhode Island’s Department of Corrections at the end of the week. 

Clarke declined to comment on the reasons for her departure, which comes as the number of coronavirus cases within the state’s prisons soar. 

“While I am happy for Dr. Clarke as she embarks on the next chapter of her career, this is of course a loss to this Department, particularly now,” Department of Corrections Director Patricia Coyne-Fague said in a statement. “Her advice, guidance and countless hours of hard work during the COVID-19 pandemic has been critical to our efforts at containing the virus.”

During the month of November, 600 prisoners and staff tested positive for COVID-19. That is by far the highest number of cases the prison has reported in a single month since the pandemic began. As of October 27, a total of 159 people within the prison had tested positive for the coronavirus.

Within the past month, nearly 90% of inmates in the maximum security facility tested positive. Dr. Matt Murphy, a physician who works at the prison part-time, said he’s also worried about rising cases in medium security, the prison's largest facility, where 102 prisoners and 28 staff members tested positive in the last month. 

“I am worried that this is not an isolated public health crisis, but that this has the potential to place further stress on our hospital and health systems, which are already under duress,” Murphy commented. 

In a statement posted on Facebook Monday, Coyne-Fague said the prison is working to contain the outbreak by restricting movement within the facility, doing weekly surveillance testing, and isolating people who test positive and whose cellmates test positive. The Corrections Department also said that video visits and in-person attorney visits are temporarily suspended at the maximum security and medium security facilities. 

Cherie Cruz, co-founder of the Formerly Incarcerated Union of Rhode Island, urged the state to release people from the ACI who are elderly and immunocompromised, and said inmates have reported that prison staff are not consistently wearing masks.

“We want to know who is overseeing and coordinating the medical response to the outbreak to ensure that the health, safety and well-being of our friends and loved ones behind the walls are being robustly addressed,” Cruz said in a written statement. “We need answers for them”

The Corrections Department does not currently have a replacement for Clarke, whose last day is December 5th. A spokesperson for the department said a medical team will take on her responsibilities, and work closely with the Department of Health on efforts to stem the spread of the virus.

This story has been updated.