Extra staff brought to Marquette Branch Prison amid coronavirus outbreak

There are 28 staff off for being positive; 37 staff are off work as close contacts; and 14 staff are off because they are symptomatic.
Coronavirus in Prisons (MGN image)
Coronavirus in Prisons (MGN image)(MGN)
Published: Oct. 12, 2020 at 11:10 AM EDT|Updated: Oct. 12, 2020 at 3:33 PM EDT
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MARQUETTE, Mich. (WLUC) - Marquette Branch Prison (MBP) is bringing in extra staff as it deals with a coronavirus case outbreak among inmates and staff.

According to the Michigan Department of Corrections, the facility has had 158 inmates and 30 staff members test positive during this outbreak so far.

MDOC Spokesperson Chris Gautz said there are 28 staff off right now for being positive; 37 staff are off work as close contacts; and 14 staff are off because they are symptomatic.

The leader of the corrections officers union blames the outbreak on transfers from Chippewa Correctional Facility after last month’s riot.

“The virus outbreak at MBP initiated with prisoners that had recently been transferred in from another facility due to a riot," said Byron Osborn, Michigan Corrections Organization President. "Unfortunately, once a virus makes its way into a prison it’s very likely to spread amongst prisoners and staff.”

Gautz said Osborn’s claim is not true.

“All of the prisoners that came from Chippewa were tested upon arrival to Marquette and all tested negative," said Gautz. "Prisoners at Marquette didn’t start testing positive for at least 14 days after that. Staff began testing positive the second week of September – before the incident at Chippewa – and have continued to test positive since.”

Gautz also said the following protocols are in place on the level V side: Staff are in full PPE; they are using disposable meal service supplies; their movement is being modified and cohorted to reduce spread; and staff are being cohorted to either work level I or level V to keep it from spreading to the level I side.

To assist with the staffing issues, MDOC is bringing in volunteers and activating 14 members of its Emergency Response Team.

“This is something we did in Muskegon last month to assist with their staffing issues due to covid as well,” Gautz said.

“Many of the state prisons, including MBP, are already significantly short staffed with officers and the additional shortages created by a virus outbreak only exacerbate the problem. We are hopeful that all of the impacted officers are able to recover and return to work quickly,” Osborn said.

Gautz said, “Vacancies play a part, but right now, staff not following the rules is causing the bigger problem. ...almost as many staff are off because they didn’t follow the rules and are off work as a close contact, as there are staff who are off for testing positive or stayed home because they are having symptoms. When staff don’t wear their mask, or practice social distancing, in violation of policy, they also have to go off work.”

Gautz also said they use prison surveillance videos to help conduct contact tracing among employees.

Case number updates will be updated on the MDOC’s coronavirus page.

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