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Big drop in COVID-19 outbreaks in Michigan prisons

Master Sgt. David Eichaker
Air National Guard

Significant outbreaks of COVID-19 inside Michigan prison walls have recently become few and far between.

That's in stark contrast to the beginning of the pandemic, when the spread of the virus was virtually uncontrolled, eventually infecting more than half of inmates, and killing more than 140.

MDOC spokesman Chris Gautz said officers swiftly contained the most recent outbreak at Bellamy Creek Correctional in Ionia, and only 18 inmates tested positive.

"And right now we haven't had a positive case from either staff or prisoners in about 11 days," Gautz said. "So we're hopeful that sometime next week, they'll be able to come off of outbreak status and start to return to normal."

Gautz credits the reduction in serious outbreaks to two things: the high rate of vaccinations among inmates, and better, swifter implementation of pandemic protocols by corrections officers.

"They know exactly what to do now," he said. "They've had a lot of experience with this, and obviously the vaccine was really important too. So having a high percentage of the population vaccinated right now, we're now at about 65%."

Gautz said regular, weekly testing of all inmates and staff is immediately implemented once a positive COVID-19 case occurs, either in the prisoner population or among staff.

Gautz said he does not know the percentage of prison corrections officers who have been vaccinated. 

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.