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Waseca prison COVID-19 case spike worries family members

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WASECA, Minn. (KTTC) -- Nearly one-third of the inmates at the all female Federal Correctional Institution in Waseca have contracted the virus.

There was a significant jump of 79 cases in just one day.

As of Friday, 190 inmates have tested positive for the disease including Sheila Gardner's sister Margurite Cofell.

"We just need her here where she can be kept safe," Gardner said.

Cofell was sentenced to eight years in jail for bank fraud, and began serving that sentence in January.

While in prison, she was diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. She's 63, and we're told she's been trying her hardest to stay safe.

"She didn't leave her room. She stayed in her room so she wouldn't contract it," Gardner said.

Cofell has since recovered from COVID-19, but still hasn't gained back her senses of smell or taste.

Gardener shared bit of a letter she said Cofell wrote to a friend.

"I have only been outside a total of six hours since April," Gardener said. "I am thankful that there is a four by four window in my room that can be opened for fresh air."

Gardener blames the prison for her sister contracting COVID-19.

"I will bet you, you can mark my words, had they released her when they said they were going to, she would not have contracted COVID," Gardner said.

Gardner says the news her family was praying for came when they found out her sister would be released to home confinement in April. They were devastated hearing the decision was rescinded three days later.

A statement from the Bureau of Prisons about that decision said in part:

"Case management staff are working urgently reviewing all inmates to determine which ones meet the criteria to be referred to home confinement."

As the case numbers continue to rise, Gardner said she does not think her sister is safe in Waseca.

"I just know there's been many sleepless nights since COVID entered the prison on both ends," Gardner said.

As for Rochester, the Federal Medical Center here has 13 inmates and five guards testing positive for COVID-19, with 13 inmates and 2 guards now recovered.

To read more about how the Federal Bureau of Prisons are handling COVID-19, click here.

Ubah Ali

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