Prisons confront special COVID-19 challenges

By Dan Colton
of The Beacon staff

One inmate has been tested for the coronavirus at the Kettle Moraine Correctional Institution in Plymouth, according to authorities. The test returned negative.

The prison, a medium-security facility, is among America’s overcrowded lockups at risk of spreading covid-19 among prisoners and inmates. With a designed capacity for 783 people, KCMI said it’s housing more than 1,170 prisoners there. Virus-mitigation steps including suspension of visitations, enhanced sanitation and disinfectant protocol, routine screening of facility employees and enhanced isolation procedures have been put in place.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC), prisoners at KCMI are isolated, tested and treated for symptoms if the coronavirus is suspected. If symptoms worsen, the DOC said the prisoner is transported to a community hospital for additional care.

Medical co-pays have also been temporarily eliminated, the department said, in order to test everyone who needs it. The measures are meant to keep inmates and staff alike safe.

“Upon confirmation of any positive case in an institution, all potentially exposed staff are notified and all persons in our care that were directly exposed are quarantined, which could include being moved to a cell hall with the best means of isolation,” DOC said in a written statement. “Each institution determines the area within their facility most conducive to such isolation procedures.”

Statewide, the DOC said 96 tests have been conducted as of April 10 among state correctional staff and inmates. Sixty-five of those tests came back negative, while five have returned positive.

Twenty-six tests are still pending.

Of the five positive cases, the DOJ said two stem from the Columbia Correctional Institution in Portage and three out of the Oshkosh Correctional Institution.

Staff, like inmates, are also at risk of contracting the deadly virus.

A dozen DOC workers were tested and showed positive results after being hit by the disease, but the department said it doesn’t offer testing for its employees and thus relies on its workers to self-report.

The coronavirus was first identified in China late last year. Experts believe it transferred from animals to humans via an open-air market in the city of Wuhan. More than 1.8 million people worldwide have since fallen ill with the virus.

At least 115,286 people have died, leading to a death rate of more than 6 percent.

Healthcare experts say the virus is easily spread through the air. And while social-distancing measures may work for people who can sequester themselves away from society inside their homes, living in close quarters with cellmates and hundreds of other people complicates those efforts in jails and prisons.

But the department said it’s keeping on top of the issue.

“We have medical professionals on-site closely monitoring the health of persons in our care,” the DOC said in a written statement. “Anyone exhibiting symptoms related to influenza or COVID-19 is seen by healthcare staff, who will evaluate the individual and make any referral for diagnostic testing.”


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