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COVID-19 CASES: Rochester’s Federal Medical Center has 9 inmates test positive

ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) -- An ongoing concern with the pandemic continues to be case hotspots in what are called 'congregant ' settings.

While that usually means an assisted living facility that also means jails and prisons.

The Federal Medical Center in Rochester has had no COVID-19 cases in its own staff or inmates.

Federal Medical Center Union President Bill Axford

But according to the union president Bill Axford the facility is being sent inmates from elsewhere who've already been infected.

"The Marshall's aren't required to quarantine them for two weeks or get a negative test before they transfer them," Axford said.

Axford said Rochester received transfers of inmates from Grady County, Oklahoma and North Dakota a little more than a week ago.

One of the Grady County inmates sent to Rochester almost immediately came down with COVID-19 symptoms eventually other inmates did as well.

"Every single prison that has gotten inmates from Grady County have gotten positive cases," Axford said.

The number of positive cases as of Friday is up to nine inmates, and Axford said he expects the positive cases to continue to rise. He said he’s worried about correctional officers testing positive and passing it to other inmates in different locations throughout the prison.

Axford said the prison has been short staffed for quite awhile now and correctional officers work with inmates who have COVID-19 and those who don’t.

"The staff that deal with them then come out and deal with inmates in general population," Axford said.

However, the living situation doesn't do much to stop the spread.

"There is no social distancing inside of a prison..it just can't happen," Axford said. "Four man rooms are not unheard of we have 16 man rooms and they're packed in pretty tight."

Axford says while none of the corrections officers have tested positive, the situation could become a major problem far beyond the prison walls.

"If it starts to spread to the staff we will spread it to the community and that's a real shame because now what the bureau of Prisons did was endanger the entire community," Axford said.

To ensure that doesn't happen Axford said there's only one situation.

"There needs to be a standard in place otherwise we're just going to take COVID and the government is gonna be who spreads it across the country," Axford said.

Federal Bureau of Prisons Office of Public Affairs sent this statement about its coronavirus response to KTTC:

"With regard to what is being done to safeguard staff and inmates at FMC Rochester, we can share that staff at Rochester and at all of the Bureau of Prisons' facilities are implementing the BOP's guidance on mitigating the spread of COVID-19.  That guidance as well as daily figures on the number of inmates and staff positive with COVID-19 can be found on our website here https://www.bop.gov/coronavirus/index.jsp.

In response to COVID-19, the BOP has instituted a comprehensive management approach that includes screening, testing, appropriate treatment, prevention, education, and infection control measures.  The BOP has been coordinating our COVID-19 efforts since January 2020, using subject-matter experts both internal and external to the agency, including guidance and directives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the Department of Justice (DOJ), and the Office of the Vice President."

Effective June 19, 2020, all inmates entering, or departing, any BOP facility (including FMC Rochester) are tested for COVID-19 upon arrival and placed in quarantine.  Quarantine in the context of COVID-19 refers to separating inmates (in an individual room or unit) apart from other incarcerated individuals not in quarantine.  If an inmate tests negative and is asymptomatic (with no symptoms), they remain in quarantine and are observed for symptoms and signs of the illness during the incubation period, and must test negative again prior to being placed in general population.  If an inmate tests positive and/or is symptomatic for COVID-19, the inmate is placed in isolation until they are considered recovered by medical staff as determined by CDC guidelines listed at: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/disposition-in-home-patients.html.  All institutions, including FMC Rochester, have areas set aside for quarantine and isolation.  Inmates are treated at the institution unless medical staff determine they require hospitalization.  All inmates are managed per CDC guidelines.

All inmates releasing or transferring from BOP facilities to other BOP facilities or other agencies, or to the community are placed in a test-in/out pre-release quarantine for a minimum of 14 days prior to their scheduled departure from the institution.  This includes but is not limited to Full Term releases, Good Conduct Time releases, releases to detainers, furloughs, and transfers to Residential Reentry Centers (RRC’s or halfway houses) or home confinement.  Following the 14-day quarantine period, an inmate who tests negative and is asymptomatic is approved to transfer/release.  If the inmate tests positive or becomes symptomatic, the inmate is placed in isolation and is not permitted to transfer until they are considered recovered by medical staff as determined by CDC guidelines.  If an inmate is in isolation on their release date, the institution notifies the local health authorities in the location where the inmate is releasing.  Institution staff also coordinate with local Health Department authorities to minimize exposure with the public upon release.  Transportation that will minimize exposure is used, with an emphasis on transportation by family and friends, and inmates are supplied a cloth facial covering to wear.

While in general population, any inmate displaying symptoms for COVID-19 will be tested and placed in isolation.  A contact investigation is then conducted to identify any potential exposures and may include widespread testing as clinically indicated.

Staff, contractors, and other visitors to the institution also must undergo a screening and temperature check by a staff member or contractor wearing appropriate PPE prior to entering the facility, with those who register a temperature of 100.4° Fahrenheit or higher denied access to the building.  As much as possible, staff are being assigned to the same posts and not rotating, as an additional measure to mitigate the spread of the virus.

For those staff who are presenting with symptoms or have been identified as a close contact of a COVID-19 diagnosed individual, given the critical role our staff play with regard to public safety, we have developed a letter for staff who are in close contact of a COVID-19 positive individual to provide to the local Health Department, to ensure such persons receive priority COVID-19 testing.  Symptomatic or positive staff self-quarantine at their homes. 

Ubah Ali

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