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COVID-19 cases quadruple at state prison; 6 hospitalized

COVID-19 cases quadruple at state prison; 6 hospitalized

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Montana State Prison

Prisoners walk into a unit at the Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge in this file photo.

The number of COVID-19 cases has quadrupled at Montana State Prison in the last week, according to a tally posted Friday by the Montana Department of Corrections.

The case count among inmates was at 166 Friday, up from 36 a week earlier. Staff, too, have seen a growing caseload, from 23 on Oct. 16 to 61 on Friday.

Six inmates were hospitalized as of Friday afternoon, Department of Corrections spokeswoman Carolynn Bright said the same day.

"The DOC is aware this is an extremely stressful time for inmates, their families and friends," Bright said in an email to the Missoulian. "We want to assure Montanans that every inmate in our facilities receives the highest quality of care from the department's professional and compassionate staff."

The new cases are being confirmed daily as the prison is conducting tests on an ongoing basis for inmates and staff, Bright said. 

Staff continue to be screened and checked as they arrive for work each day, and inmates are quarantined for 14 days after they are transported to the prison, Bright said.

Clinical Services staff members conduct daily nursing assessments on all inmates diagnosed with COVID-19 at their assigned isolation or quarantine housing, Bright said. Some sick inmates are isolated in their cells, while other quarantined inmates who live together in pods are cohorted in those pods, Bright said. 

"It is common practice, as guided by the CDC and the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, to have the entire family quarantine in their house with the infected individual," Bright said. "In the event an inmate diagnosed with COVID-19 exhibits symptoms of illness requiring a higher level of clinical observation and/or care, the inmate will be moved to a dedicated, onsite location or to a medical center that can provide the level of medical care required."

According to a ticker on the state corrections agency's website, no inmates or staff have died due to COVID-19.

Powell County, where the Montana State Prison is located just outside Deer Lodge, had 105 active cases outside the prison, local health officials said in a Facebook post on Wednesday. In the same post, Powell County said the prison had an additional 50 cases at the prison, with three hospitalized at the time. 

Powell County Health Officer Marianne Saylor did not return a voicemail left Friday afternoon seeking updated information.

According to the state COVID-19 response page, which has not been consistent with local tallies released on social media, there have been no COVID-related deaths in Powell County. 

Following the same ramp as the statewide case count, COVID-19 has festered in Montana's prisons after the last several weeks. Crossroads Correctional Center, a private prison operated by CoreCivic near Shelby, has seen 255 cases in less than a month, a scale of more than 1 in 3 inmates there. The contract facility has roughly 600 beds. Earlier this week, CoreCivic released its testing, showing a 43% positivity rate during mass testing conducted on Oct. 8 and 9.

The 255 cases reported by the Montana Department of Corrections at the Shelby prison account only for state inmates. Questions about federal inmates housed at the private prisons were directed to an email account for the U.S. Marshals. An email seeking information sent to that account was not returned Friday.

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