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Virus cases increase at state prison

TCI keeping inmates in quarantine

LEAVITTSBURG — While Trumbull County has seen a much smaller surge of nursing home coronavirus cases and deaths than Mahoning County and avoided the prison cases and deaths seen in Columbiana County’s federal prison at Elkton, virus cases are rising at the Trumbull Correctional Institution.

Data released by the Ohio Department of Health indicates that TCI has seen an increase in the past week in the number of staff members and inmates who have tested positive for the virus.

Fourteen staff members tested positive during the past week, compared to seven the previous week.

Sandra Swann, director of nursing for the Trumbull County Combined Health District, acknowledged the increase but said, “I think they (prison officials) are on top of it because they are monitoring everyone … and taking care of the problem.”

She said the prison has an isolation area for sick inmates. “They are quarantining the contacts, just like we recommend here when we follow up on community members,” she said.

Swann this week said the Ohio National Guard tested all TCI staff two weeks ago, which likely is a factor in the rising number staff cases. Prison officials said the testing took place June 2 and June 4.

“Keep in mind that if you test enough people, you’re going to find positive cases,” Swann said. “A rise in number there is probably because they tested everyone.”

Seventeen inmates tested positive in the past week, compared to nine the previous week. And six inmates were hospitalized on Wednesday, prison officials said.

Swann said that is “not really a bad number. We have had nursing homes that have been higher than that.”

Frank Migliozzi, Trumbull County health commissioner, said seeing an increase of eight virus cases at TCI last week isn’t real high compared to what Columbiana County saw with the federal prison at Elkton.

“Elkton was on a weekly basis probably seeing a jump in cases of 20 per week or so,” Migliozzi said.

Swann said TCI’S increase in cases might have been affected by Gov. Mike DeWine’s orders that all inmates be tested prior to being released.

TCI inmates have not been tested as a group the way staff members have, prison officials said. The facility has had no virus deaths among staff or inmates.

The number of inmates who are in isolation rose from 11 last week to 21 this week, according to prison data from the Ohio Department of Health.

Being in isolation means an inmate who is sick is being kept apart from inmates who are not sick.

The facility is under full quarantine for its 1,325 inmates, meaning inmates are separated, and all inmates who were exposed or potentially exposed to the virus have had their movements restricted, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction said.

JoEllen Smith, ODRC spokesperson, said rumors the facility’s infirmary is full are false.

Two inmates who tested positive for the virus are in the infirmary, and two inmates returning to the facility Thursday from the hospital will be assigned to the infirmary, Smith said in an email.

As for claims made to the newspaper from a member of the public that cases of the virus are “about to explode,” Smith said: “That would be speculation.”

Smith said TCI employees receive a mandatory medical screening prior to entering the facility, and inmates also undergo a medical screening daily.

She noted that the prison “has implemented changes to ensure social distancing is achieved when possible and encourages the staff and inmate population to practice frequent and aggressive sanitation and hygiene.”

As for personal protective equipment used by staff, Smith said workers are provided with different kinds of masks depending on the type of work they do and follow the guidance provided by the Ohio Department of Health. Employees are allowed to use their own cloth masks.

Staff members who supervise inmates with no symptoms and no known exposure to the virus are required to wear a surgical or cloth mask with no gloves, eye protection or gown.

Staff members working in the quarantine area must wear gloves and surgical or cloth mask but no eye protection or gown.

Staff members working in the isolation area having direct contact with patients who have symptoms or tested positive for the virus must wear gloves, N-95 mask, gown and eye protection, according to documents.

Staff members transporting inmates suspected of having the virus or testing positive for the virus also must wear the gloves, N-95 mask, eye protection and gown.

As for testing of inmates, a program began April 11 at the Marion Correctional Institution in Marion to test all 2,400 inmates to prevent further spread of the virus. About 81 percent of inmates tested positive, but only 6 percent of inmates had symptoms.

As of May 6, the prison system established a procedure of testing all inmates as they enter the prison system. Inmates showing symptoms of the virus also are tested.

Inmates about to be released are tested and then isolated if they test positive. No inmate actively positive will be released from the prison, according to prison guidelines.

Because data suggests that asymptomatic staff are the initial source of transmission of the virus to inmates, the prison system is testing all staff members.

When asked if TCI received a shipment of ventilators, Smith said that is false because the prison does not provide that type of medical care. The facility did receive eight concentrators in the past two weeks.

A concentrator is a device used for delivering oxygen to individuals with breathing-related disorders. Individuals whose oxygen concentration in their blood is lower than normal often require an oxygen concentrator to replace that oxygen, according to the website cpap.com.

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