MARQUETTE, Mich. (WLUC) - UPDATE at 6:00 p.m. Thursday:
A growing number of prison inmates and staff across Michigan are testing positive for coronavirus, including two inmates from Upper Michigan prisons.
The Michigan Department of Corrections says it is taking steps to be ready in the event of a more widespread outbreak.
Byron Osborn, the president of the union that represents corrections officers, says Michigan’s prison system is preparing for a dramatic spike in the number of inmates testing positive for coronavirus.
"Everything seems to indicate that we're just at the beginning of this. Just in the past 48 hours, we went from one confirmed case in the prison system to now I think we're up to seven or eight with anywhere from 30 to 50 under quarantine for precaution.
Osborn say inmates that show signs of or test positive for COVID-19 are being quarantined.
"And any other prisoners who've had close continuous contact with that same prisoner, like if they were cell mates," Osborn announced.
Thus, the bulk of the people under quarantine right now are there as a precaution to try to limit the spread of the virus.
Meanwhile, Chris Gautz, Spokesman for the Michigan Department of Corrections says corrections officers are also limiting the number of inmate transfers from one facility to another. They’re also making preparations to isolate additional inmates in the event of a more widespread coronavirus outbreak in the near future.
"Each facility is determining whether or not they have the space and if they do, who could potentially go there. So Marquette, just like every other facility is making accommodations ready if in fact we need to send individuals there,” Gautz declared.
Gautz says there are currently no plans to move any inmates to the Marquette Branch Prison, but it is possible.
"We don't have any plans to [for example] bring somebody from Detroit or Jackson and bring them all the way to the UP,” Gautz announced.
Corrections officers working in close contact with sick inmates are using all the proper protective gear. However, officers working with the general population are not, according to Osborn.
"It's great cause for anxiety because we're in there walking shoulder to shoulder with these prisoners and if they're coughing and sneezing and we're touching the same surfaces, it's a struggle,” Osborn reasoned.
Meanwhile, visitations to all MDOC facilities has been suspended. MDOC has also instituted a daily screening process for all corrections officers.
"That looks at whether or not they've had international travel to a place where there is an outbreak as well as whether or not they’ve had close personal contact with someone who is a person under investigation for having COVID-19," Gautz stated.
Corrections Officers also their temperature taken daily as part of the screening process.
"Anyone with a temperature above 100.4° is screened out and is not allowed to come to work that day," Gautz continued.
With the long incubation period observed with coronavirus, corrections officers and officials will continue to face challenges identifying inmates and officers that may be exposed or infected in time to flatten the curve.
The Michigan Department of Corrections says inmates exposed to COVID-19 could be transferred to Marquette Branch Prison for isolation as part of the department's COVID-19 response plan.
Below is the complete statement MDOC Spokesperson Chris Gautz sent TV6 & FOX UP on Thursday morning:
"The MDOC has established a COVID-19 response plan, which includes a number of contingencies. Among those contingencies is designating certain facilities on a regional basis where prisoners can be safely isolated to receive treatment if isolation and treatment cannot be safely accomplished at their current facilities. Marquette Branch Prison has readied some capacity, as have other facilities around the state, should this be necessary. At this time, no prisoners have been transferred to Marquette, and there are no current plans to transfer the positive prisoner from Newberry, but transfers could happen in the future if need dictates that action. Should these transfers occur, all staff would have proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) when working with or near these prisoners and COVID-19 protocols that have been developed in conjunction with DHHS, the CDC, and other experts will be in place."
This is a developing story. Further comments from the MDOC and the union that represents Corrections Officers will be added soon.