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MDOC reports record high COVID cases in prisons statewide

In the U.P., both the Marquette and Kinross facilities have been labeled as “contingency facilities” because of high staff vacancies.
In the U.P., both the Marquette and Kinross facilities have been labeled as “contingency facilities” because of high staff vacancies.
Published: Jan. 24, 2022 at 6:11 PM EST
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UPPER MICHIGAN, Mich. (WLUC) - As the Omicron variant spreads, Michigan prisons are experiencing record-breaking COVID-19 cases.

The Marquette Branch Prison alone reported 212 active cases of COVID-19 among prisoners on Monday. Despite case tracking limitations for staff, the impact on prison workers can be seen in the number of employee absences.

“Over roughly the last 10 days or so, we’ve seen about 100 employees, per day, testing positive for COVID. We’ve never seen numbers like that before amongst our employees,” said Chris Gautz, Michigan Department of Correction (MDOC) Spokesperson.

Both the Marquette and Kinross facilities have been labeled as “contingency facilities” because of high staff vacancies. The designation allows for staffing flexibility.

“If an employee tests positive and they are asymptomatic, or they have mild symptoms and those symptoms are improving, that individual can return to work after five days,” Gautz said.

Since March 2020, the MDOC has required all prison staff to wear masks. Starting today, that requirement will be enhanced.

“We’ve been shipping out millions of KN-95 masks that are being delivered to all the prisons across the state right now,” Gautz said.

Inmates will be required to wear masks too. Weekly testing continues.

“We have tested more individuals than any other state in the country when you look at corrections departments. We have done more than 1.5 million tests since the start of the pandemic between prisoners and staff,” Gautz said.

Gautz says there are over 5,000 empty prison beds across the state. He says it is because of people being paroled, and the courts are slow because of the pandemic.

“Our numbers are low, which allows us to spread people out more,” Gautz said.

Because of high case numbers in other facilities, Alger Correctional Facility is the only U.P. prison allowing in-person visitation. Alger Correctional Facility is the only U.P. prison reporting no active prisoner COVID-19 cases.

The union that represents all Michigan corrections officers says COVID-related absences, are severely increasing the problems created by a longtime staffing shortage.

Union president Bryon Osborn said in a statement, “There has been an ongoing corrections officer staffing crisis in the Michigan Department of Corrections for several years. The Covid-related absences, as they have been since 2020, are severely exacerbating the problems created by the staffing shortage. We are 950 corrections officers short in the MDOC right now, so we really struggle when a prison experiences an outbreak of positive tests not only with staff but with prisoners as well. Prisoner positive tests result in having to move them around to isolate them, which in turn creates a need for more officers to supervise them.”

MDOC reports that there are currently 5,550 active COVID-19 cases with prisoners. This is an increase of 545 cases since Friday.

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