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MDOC tries to separate most vulnerable inmates from COVID-19 positive inmates

Exterior of fence and prison grounds
Katie Raymond
Michigan Radio

The Michigan Department of Corrections is testing every inmate for COVID-19 at its Cotton Correctional Facility in Jackson.

That's after tests of all the inmates at another prison, Lakeland Correctional Facility in Coldwater, found that 80% of inmates who tested positive for COVID-19 showed no symptoms at the time that they were tested (it's not clear how many of those were asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic).

MDOC spokesman Chris Gautz says at Cotton, younger, healthier inmates are responsible for pushing older, sicker inmates in wheelchairs, and they are in very close contact with them while getting them to meals, out to the yard, and to medical appointments for cancer and other diseases.

"Because of how insidious and contagious this virus can be, you can go days, if not weeks or ever, during your contagious phase and never know it or have symptoms, but be spreading it the entire time," says Gautz. "We want to get away from the possibility of having somebody who's asymptomatic come into contact with another prisoner in that (vulnerable) state."

Gautz says the testing should be concluded by the end of the week.

785 of the 1,403 inmates at Lakeland Correctional Facility tested positive for COVID-19. Lakeland houses many of the state's longest-serving inmates. 13 inmates at Lakeland died after contracting the virus.

So far, 108 inmates at Cotton Correctional Facility have contracted COVID-19.

In all state prisons, a total of 38 inmates have died of COVID-19.

260 MDOC staff have contracted COVID-19, with two deaths.

Gautz says the MDOC is also transferring some COVID-19 positive inmates to a temporary facility in Whitmore Lake, which is near the University of Michigan Hospitals, should they end up requiring hospitalization. 

He says the department is trying to walk a fine line to avoid overwhelming smaller hospitals closer to prisons, without taking advantage of the University of Michigan's greater ability to care for seriously ill patients.

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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