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April 19, 2020

Ohio, by testing lots of prisoners, determines that lots and lots and lots of Ohio prisoners have COVID

Just ten days ago, I noted in this post the New York Times piece calling the Cook County jail the "Top U.S. Hot Spot" with 238 inmates and 115 staff members having tested positive for COVID.  Today, because Ohio has made an effort to test all inmates in a few of its prisons, we have a new "hot spot" winner in another corrections facility: the Marion Correctional Institution now has 109 staff and 1828 inmates(!) who have tested positive. The latest official Ohio data from all prisons is chilling, and here are excerpts from "this local article headlined "Almost one in four Ohio coronavirus cases now come from the state’s prisons":

While the DeWine administration has hailed the effectiveness of its social-distancing restrictions to “flatten the curve” of coronavirus infections in Ohio, the disease is escalating among one group of Ohioans who can’t stay at home: prison inmates.

As of late Sunday afternoon, 2,400 of the 11,602 confirmed coronavirus cases in Ohio have been found among inmates in 13 of the state’s 28 prison facilities, including six inmate deaths.  That’s up from 1,441 confirmed cases on Saturday.  Add in the 244 state corrections staffers who have tested positive, and that means about one in four coronavirus cases in Ohio (about 23 percent, to be exact) come from a state prison.

While that ratio is a little less shocking considering that there is wider testing among inmates than the general population, it’s still sobering given that Ohio’s 49,000 or so prisoners make up 0.4 percent of the state’s population of 11.75 million.

Those figures do not include the 88 confirmed cases (38 staff and 50 inmates, six inmates dead) at Federal Correctional Institution Elkton, the lone federal prison in Ohio.  They also don’t include county jail inmate or people behind bars at any level in Ohio who are sick but haven’t been tested.

The problem is particularly dire at the Marion Correctional Institution, where 1,828 inmates have tested positive for the virus as of Sunday.  In addition, 109 staffers at the Marion prison are infected -- one of whom has died....

State officials are moving to test every inmate at the three prisons hardest hit by the disease: Marion, Pickaway Correctional Institution, and the Franklin Medical Center (the state’s prison hospital in Columbus).  The governor also started the process of releasing about 200 inmates who are at a high risk of dying from the virus or other inmates nearing the end of their sentences.

DeWine spokesman Dan Tierney noted that the first prison to report coronavirus cases was the federal Elkton prison, not a state facility. He also said Ohio, as of Friday, was the only state to conduct blanket coronavirus testing at prisons.  “The measures that were put in place delayed the arrival of coronavirus at these facilities,” Tierney said Sunday.  “Now that it’s there, we have to aggressively monitor the situation (and) aggressively deal with this situation -- and that is what we’re doing.”

Critics, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, have repeatedly called on the governor to release a far greater number of people from state prisons, which have been overcrowded for years....

So many Ohio prison staffers have become ill at Marion that members of the state’s National Guard and State Highway Patrol are taking over some “mission criticial” tasks.  Guard members are also providing medical services at Pickaway.  Sally Meckling, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, said the Marion, Pickaway, and Franklin Medical Center facilities are “severely understaffed” because of workers out sick.  

April 19, 2020 at 08:58 PM | Permalink


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