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COVID-19 cases more than double in Michigan prisons in two weeks

Cases of COVID-19 are surging inside Michigan prisons, just as they are surging outside in non-incarcerated communities.
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Cases of COVID-19 are surging inside Michigan prisons, just as they are surging outside in non-incarcerated communities.

The number of inmates in Michigan prisons testing positive for COVID-19 has more than doubled in just two weeks.

Currently, 2,790 inmates are considered active positive cases.  The number was about 1,200 two weeks ago. The largest number of cases are at Handlon, Brooks, and Central Michigan correctional facilities, with smaller outbreaks at the Bellamy, Egeler, Ionia and Newland facilities.

Corrections Department spokesman Chris Gautz says the dramatic spike reflects what is happening outside the prisons as well.

But he says fewer inmates are getting extremely ill and dying compared to what happened in the spring.

"Even though some of the case numbers are roughly the same as they were in April and March and June, the number of deaths is nowhere near that rate," says Gautz.  "Just like out in the public the medical community is learning how to adjust and deal with the virus and we're doing the same in the prisons."

Gautz says infected inmates and inmates exposed to someone with COVID-19 have been given a multi-vitamin containing B and D vitamins and zinc.  He says medical staff believe that has been helping inmates fight off the infection, and the plan is to now to distribute the multivitamin to all inmates, regardless of COVID-19 status or exposure status.

The National Institutes of Health says the evidence is such that it can not recommend for or against Vitamin C or D for COVID-19, and it recommends against zinc.  The agency offers no guidance on vitamin B.

Gautz says if a staff member tests positive in a prison, all inmates are also tested for COVID-19, and because there is at least one positive staff member now in every one of the state's 39 facilities, all inmates are being tested weekly for COVID-19.

Meanwhile, the Parole Board has been increasing the pace at which it paroles eligible inmates, in order to allow prisons to do more physical distancing.  There are currently 34,007 inmates in Michigan prisons, down from more than 38,000 in the spring. Gautz says that is the lowest number of people in state correctional facilities in thirty years.

He says the influx of new inmates is also down, in part because people are committing fewer serious crimes during the pandemic, and in part because the court system is trying to put fewer people behind bars because of the pandemic.

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.
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