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New coronavirus variant found in 90 people at West Michigan prison

Prison fence barbed wire
Kevin Rosseel
Michigan ranks fourth in the nation for prisoner rehabilitation

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has identified 90 cases of the new coronavirus variant at the Bellamy Creek Correctional Facility, in Ionia. 

Bellamy Creek Correctional Facility is where the first known case of the new variant was found in Michigan prisons last Tuesday. According to a Michigan Department of Corrections email, an employee had the variant. 

Health experts say the new coronavirus variant, B.1.1.7 that originated from the United Kingdom, is more contagious than the original strain. 

After finding the new variant, MDOC said in an internal email last Tuesday to employees that incarcerated people and staff there will be tested daily until further notice. There are 1,678 incarcerated people and 406 employees at the Bellamy Creek Correctional Facility, according to the MDOC.  

The new testing regimen consisted of a daily BinaxNOW rapid test. If a result comes back positive, a PCR test will be taken and sent to the state lab to see if it is a coronavirus variant. Certain prisoners and staff at Duane Waters Health Center and Macomb Correctional Facility will also be subjected to daily testing after seeing transfers from the Ionia prison before the variant was detected. 

According to an MDOC news release about Bellamy Creek Correctional Facility, "(o)f the first set of samples provided to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Bureau of Laboratories, 90 of the 95 were found to have the variant. Of the 90, there were 88 prisoners and two employees. There are more than 100 lab results still pending."

The release said "additional precautions", along with daily testing, were put in place after the detection of the new variant. 

"Since the daily testing results have come in, the number of COVID-19 positive cases at the facility has been on the decline, which indicates the swift efforts undertaken to reduce the spread is working," the release adds. 

MDOC spokesperson Chris Gautz said to Michigan Radio last week the daily testing is finding positives faster. 

According to MDOC's case update Tuesday,  1,844 incarcerated individuals have been tested and there are 705 total confirmed coronavirus cases since March at Bellamy Creek Correctional Facility. There are 332 active cases, a rise from 98 active cases last Tuesday. 

For Bellamy Creek Correctional Facility staff, there are 122 confirmed cases since March. Last Wednesday, there were 106. 

Statewide, there are currently 930 active cases among the incarcerated population. 

Nisa Khan joins Michigan Radio as the station’s first full-time data reporter. In that capacity, she will be reporting on data-driven news stories as well as working with other news staff to acquire and analyze data in support of their journalism.
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