A Moose Lake inmate has become the first person in Carlton County, and in the state's prison system, to test positive for COVID-19.
The Minnesota Department of Corrections said the man tested positive over the weekend. He has mild symptoms and has not required hospitalization. DOC Commissioner Paul Schnell said prison staff is following state guidelines for quarantine and use of personal protective equipment.
“We have been working directly with epidemiology staff from the Department of Health for several weeks to plan for the known likelihood of staff and inmate cases of COVID-19,” Schnell said in a statement. “We are taking all reasonable steps to minimize the spread with the state’s correctional facilities, and we are implementing methods to protect those most at risk medically."
Carlton County Board Chair Marv Bodie said officials are “hoping for the best in recovery and safest outcomes for all those who live and work in the facility."
“Our local Public Health and Human Services staff, with community partners, have been preparing for this for many weeks, and will be continuing to follow the most accurate and up-to-date guidance from MDH and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as they plan for additional cases locally," Bodie said. "Carlton County has a very strong Public Health department, and I am confident in their response to care for our residents during these uncertain times.”
The Minnesota Correctional Facility in Moose Lake houses just over 1,000 male inmates in a medium-security setting. It is separate from the nearby Minnesota Sex Offender Program, which is operated by the state's Department of Human Services.
The DOC said a staff member at its Red Wing prison, in southeastern Minnesota, has also tested positive for the new coronavirus. Both cases were detected over the weekend and neither has resulted in serious symptoms.
The DOC on March 12 halted all in-person visiting at prisons across the state. Staff has added hand-washing and sanitization stations, implemented physical-distancing measures and imposed restrictions on inmate travel between correctional facilities and courthouses.
It was not clear how the inmate became infected. DOC spokesman Nick Kimball said contact tracing procedures were being utilized and two other inmates who were determined to have had close contact with the individual have also been put into isolation.
A total of five Moose Lake inmates had been tested as of Tuesday afternoon, but results were still pending for the other four people. Across the prison system's 11 facilities, 25 inmates had received a test; all but those in Moose Lake had come back negative.
“We continue our efforts to balance public health concerns inside the prisons with the need to offer pro-social, therapeutic, educational, recreational and phone visiting activities," Schnell said. "As an agency, we continue our preventative measures as part of our effort to slow the spread of COVID-19 within the prisons.”
This story was updated several times with additional information from state and county officials, most recently at 3:32 p.m. March 31. It was originally posted at 10:37 a.m. March 31.