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Missouri Will Test Inmates And Workers At Four Prisons For The Coronavirus

Corrections health experts have been urging prison administrators to plan for coronavirus.
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Prisons across the United States have seen coronavirus outbreaks.

The Missouri Department of Corrections is starting to test all staff and inmates at two correctional facilities for the coronavirus.

The first phase of testing covers 3,500 people incarcerated or working at Southeast Correctional Center in Charleston and South Central Correctional Center in Licking, Missouri Department of Corrections Director Anne Precythe said in a news conference earlier this week. The second phase will cover 2,900 people at the Chillicothe Correctional Center and the Algoa facility in Jefferson City.

State and federal prisons around the U.S. have been dealing with coronavirus outbreaks, including a facility in eastern Kansas where more than 900 inmates and staffers combined were infected; four inmates and two guards have died.

But only one Missouri prison, the Southeast Correctional Center, has been reported as having an outbreak of COVID-19, with more than 40 inmates and 20 staffers testing positive. A inmate who tested positive, and later negative, died in the hospital on April 2.

The Missouri Corrections Officers Association has been calling for widespread testing since the early days of the pandemic.

“For corrections in general in Missouri, we’ve been fairly lucky that we haven’t had a bad outbreak of this virus," said Tim Cutt with the association. "Our staff are satisfied that the tests are finally getting done, but we’re not sure exactly what the hold up was.”

Precythe said the Charleston prison was a top priority for testing, and described how it would be done.

“We’ll run two eight-hour shifts with five National Guard medics and one employee health nurse testing staff," she said, "and then the National Guard medics will go inside the facility to assist our contract health care providers with offender testing,” she said.

But Sara Baker, the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri's policy director, said it's not enough just to test the inmates.

"Testing is vital and should be a part of how COVID is addressed in correctional facilities. However, we also need to decrease our prison population focused on those who are at highest risk,” Baker said. “So far, we have seen that as a critical missing feature from Missouri's response to the coronavirus."

Precythe said two phases will inform the Department of Corrections' response plan for other state prisons.

St. Louis Public Radio has reported that some prisoners have been making personal protective equipment and hand sanitizer during the pandemic.

Noah Taborda is a news intern for KCUR. Reach out to him on twitter @NoahTaborda

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