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COVID-19 outbreak at Marquette Branch Prison grows

Prison wall
Microsoft Images

A large and growing outbreak of COVID-19 at Marquette Branch Prison has now infected 85 corrections officers and other staff and 182 inmates as of Thursday afternoon, including 50 inmates who were recently transferred from an infection-free facility.

The 85 cases among staff is the highest number of staff testing positive in any one state prison so far.

Chris Gautz is a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Corrections. He says the new transfers were moved out of Chippewa Correctional Facility, after they allegedly participated in a riot.

He says even though it was known that there were COVID-19 cases among staff, there was no other high security facility available to house the Chippewa inmates besides the one at Marquette.

"At the time there was only a handful (of cases)," he says. "We're talking probably less than a half dozen staff members who had tested positive over a several week period."

Gautz says the inmates who were transferred from Chippewa were placed in single occupant cells and it is not clear how so many were infected.  

He says it is also not clear why so many corrections officers became infected with COVID-19, when the same pandemic protocols are in place at all state prisons.

"Because it hasn't happened at this level before, so we really hope that this is an anomaly, but still something that we can find a way to learn from," he says.

Gautz says with so many corrections officers out sick or quarantining, the prison system has put out a call for volunteers to keep the Marquette Branch Prison sufficiently staffed. He praised those who responded, saying, "that's the one thing that's really special about the MDOC, that people run towards trouble, not away from it." 

So far, none of those infected at Marquette Branch Prison have died. 

In all state prisons, 74 inmates and three staff have died of COVID-19.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.