1,299 inmates test positive for virus at Tennessee prison

Associated Press • May 1, 2020 at 4:23 PM

NASHVILLE — Tennessee will begin testing all of its state prison inmates and staff after 1,299 of 2,444 inmates tested positive for the coronavirus at a privately run prison, state and prison officials said Friday.

Out of the nearly 1,300 inmates and 50 prison workers who tested positive at Trousdale Turner Correctional Center, which is run by Tennessee-based CoreCivic, about 98% percent had no symptoms, officials said. More than 280 workers were tested.

The outbreak that has affected about half of the prisoners further shows the capability of the coronavirus to spread quickly through the nation’s prisons.

The results follow widespread testing that found 583 of 2,322 inmates tested positive, largely without symptoms, at Bledsoe County Correctional Complex. The system-wide testing will start next week.

The spikes in prison COVID-19 cases come as Tennessee continues to unravel restrictions to allow some types of businesses to open in most of the state. The state on Friday reported more than 11,800 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and at least 204 confirmed deaths.

Tennessee has more than 21,700 state inmates in adult facilities as of February. The state has 14 prisons, including four run by CoreCivic.

“The Department of Correction is taking a proactive approach to ensure all staff and the entire inmate population is tested for COVID-19,” state Department of Correction Commissioner Tony Parker said in a news release. “Our sixth round of mass testing will begin early next week with the remaining 10 facilities conducting testing.”

In mid-April, state corrections officials said they were considering testing all state inmates for the new coronavirus after positive tests came back for more than two dozen workers and five inmates. At that point, only 55 state inmates had been tested, and the state had just begun mass testing of 1,145 workers at Northwest Correctional Complex and the Bledsoe facility.

Since then, the state has said it was opting for a targeted approach, where widespread testing would occur at prisons that saw positive cases.

Before Friday, Trousdale had tested 250 inmates, 94 of whom tested positive. There were 12 confirmed COVID-19 cases among Trousdale staff before the latest round of contractor and staff testing, CoreCivic said.

Inmates who become symptomatic but don’t require additional care, such as respiratory support, are treated at prisons or at local hospitals. Staffers self-quarantine and are monitored for symptoms.

There have been 40 positive cases out of 902 staff and inmates tested at Northwest Correctional Complex and 40 positive cases out of 313 staff and inmates tested at Turney Center Industrial Complex.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in a few weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including life-threatening pneumonia.

Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

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