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Number of infected prisoners jumps as state nears completion of coronavirus testing

Lester Graham
Michigan Radio

The Michigan Department of Corrections is nearing its goal of testing all prisoners in state facilities. By the end of next week it should be finished. The National Guard has been assisting the prison system with testing prisoners.

At the Gus Harrison Correctional Facility in Adrian there are 1,965 prisoners. A total of 716 have tested positive.

Before mass testing by the National Guard, 104 prisoners with symptoms had tested positive for COVID-19 and were sent to other facilities. The infections started in one building.

“It shows you just how quickly it can spread, because they went from no cases to having a handful, to a dozen, to 104 within a matter of a week or two,” said Chris Gautz, spokesman for the Corrections Department.

When the National Guard tested the rest of the population, another 612 tested positive.

“The vast, vast majority of them were all asymptomatic. So these are people walking around, living their normal lives, not feeling any different at all, and we're completely surprised by the fact that their results came back positive,” Gautz said.

Across the state, 3,089 prisoners have tested positive. 59 have died. The state is waiting for results of tests on another 19,000 prisoners.

Thirty one of the prison staff also tested positive at the Gus Harrison facility. Statewide, 334 staff members have tested positive. Two Corrections Department employees have died.

The prisoners at the Adrian prison grew angry because they were not informed of their personal results, although they had been segregated in housing for those who tested positive and those who tested negative. Prisoners in the yard refused to return to housing. Corrections staff persuaded them to do so after a short standoff.

The private health care provider, Corizon, was supposed to notify prisoners of their status. It failed to do so. Department of Corrections ordered Corizon to release the information immediately. Gautz said there were complaints about delays in notifying prisoners at other facilities. Corrections has had previous problems with the private health care provider. The state has fined Corizon for violating requirements for timely care in the past. Prisoners have complained they don't get the tests or other treatments they need for some chronic conditions, as reported in a Michigan Radio documentary.

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Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Public from 1998-2010.
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