The federal prison system “is committed to protecting the health and welfare of those individuals entrusted to our care, as well as our staff, their families, and the communities where we live and work,” the agency said in a statement.
Inmates and prison officials have said the inability of inmates to see loved ones — combined with the fear of becoming sick and having been largely restricted to cells or crowded dormitories — had exacerbated existing mental illnesses.
But not everyone is pleased with the return of in-person visits.
Mr. McGlothin, the federal prison employee in California, said that when he went to officials with concerns about the risks of renewed visits, he was told that the new partitions would help and that the plan would be safe.
“I said, ‘Safe for who?’” Mr. McGlothin said.
Even some families were reluctant.
Nina Schunck said that she and her daughter, an inmate at a federal prison in West Virginia, had discussed a visit but ultimately decided against it.
“She does not want me to go because she is afraid of transmission,” Ms. Schunck said. “They just had their first positive case there. So she’s worried about that on both counts — that people will bring it in, or that people will get it while they’re there.”
She added: “The timing is just weird to me because it’s still continuing to spread. There’s no stop — every day, another prison.”
At Butner federal prison in North Carolina, Barry Taylor, an inmate, said fears about extending a remarkably deadly six-month stretch at the prison had led inmates and families to decide visits were too risky. If inmates become infected, they are typically placed in isolation units or grouped with other ill prisoners and have limited access to showers, phone calls, hot meals, fresh air and exercise.