A staff member at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Moose Lake has now tested positive for COVID-19, a Department of Corrections official said Thursday.
Four inmates at the state prison facility also have the new coronavirus, according to a daily update from the DOC. Three other inmate tests remained outstanding.
Moose Lake remained the only prison in the state to have confirmed cases among inmates as of Thursday morning. A staff member at the Red Wing prison, in southwestern Minnesota, tested positive last weekend but there were no known cases in the correctional facility.
"As a general matter the prison environment is no different really from the community in the sense of possible cases," DOC spokesman Nick Kimball told the News Tribune. "The governor said during his press conference (Wednesday) people should assume other people you're around could possibly be infected. He's said previously 40-80% of Minnesotans could be confirmed positive by the end of this.
"We are definitely planning that more cases could come. Thankfully, most cases of COVID-19 lead to minor symptoms and don't require hospitalization. That is the case for the cases connected to DOC at this point."
Because correctional facilities are confined spaces with close quarters, many defense attorneys and civil rights advocates have expressed concern over the potential for a deadly virus outbreak, calling for the release of more jail and prison inmates.
In St. Louis County, and around the state, officials have worked together to release scores of nonviolent, pretrial detainees under community supervision. But for those serving out sentences in state prisons, early release could only come via order from a judge — an option opposed by most prosecutors and public safety officials.
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.
Officials said the infected inmates have been isolated and staff is following health guidelines for the use of personal protective equipment inside prisons. Amid the pandemic, the DOC has suspended all public visits, added hand-washing and sanitization stations, implemented physical distancing measures and imposed restrictions on inmate travel between correctional facilities and courthouses.
The Minnesota Department of Health did not report any other new cases in the region in its daily update. There were 742 positive tests across the state, including 18 deaths, as of Thursday morning.
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