FCI Waseca

The Federal Correctional Institution — Waseca has seen a dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases since mid-August. A group of new inmates from Oklahoma was transferred to the prison at that time. (Federal Bureau of Prisons photo)

On Tuesday, Minnesota officials confirmed an outbreak of 122 cases at the federal women’s prison in Waseca, and four cases among staff members.

Minnesota Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann told MPR News the virus appears to have arrived in Waseca with a group of inmates transferred from Oklahoma in mid-August. Some inmates from that group were quarantined after the virus was detected, but COVID-19 was identified on a different floor of the facility, according to Ehresmann. Ehresmann said federal marshals did not test the group of inmates prior to transferring them to Waseca. She said testing in the facility happens every four days. Positive cases are isolated and quarantined but with only dividers between bunks, it can be difficult to control spread of the virus, Ehresmann told MPR News.

Waseca County Public Health on Saturday reported 28 new cases with 24 coming from FCI-Waseca. FCI-Waseca has seen 45 new cases within the last week, but Waseca County Public Health said some of those cases date back to Aug. 25.

“The discrepancy in COVID-19 positive case numbers between FCI Waseca and Waseca County Health was resolved as soon as we became aware of the absence of an automatic reporting mechanism for rapid testing,” the Bureau of Prisons Office of Public Affairs said in an email. “FCI Waseca is reporting Abbott ID Now rapid test results directly to the state.”

Twenty-six inmates and three staff members have recovered from COVID-19, according to the Bureau of Prisons.

The number of deaths from COVID-19 in Waseca County also increased this week to eight. The county has seen a total of 397 cases as of Tuesday. Thirty-nine of those cases are from last Friday through Tuesday. Two new deaths were reported on Sept. 13 and both came from congregate care settings, according to Waseca County Public Health. Seven of the eight deaths in Waseca County have come in congregate care settings.

Lake Shore Inn Nursing Home, a 45-bed facility with a staff of around 80, is the only long-term care facility in the county to have reported an exposure, though New Richland Care Center has reported one as well but state records have yet to reflect that, according to Administrator Chuck Ness.

Lake Shore Inn Administrator Pete Madel III said the facility reported its first exposure three weeks ago. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have designated Waseca County as a red county for the past three weeks, meaning care facilities like Lake Shore Inn must test residents and staff twice a week.

Madel III, who also serves as the administrator at Whispering Creek nursing home in Janesville, said the staff gets screened once they get to work. Employees wear masks and goggles covering their eyes at all times, Madel III said. At Lake Shore Inn, visitors have not been allowed in. Instead, residents can visit friends and families through window visits.

Lake Shore Inn used to have congregate dining, but now all residents eat meals in their rooms, he said.

“Once that starts spreading in the community, it’s so hard for that not to spread into our building,” Madel III said. “It’s scary once it starts going around your community.”

Lakeshore Inn will soon have rapid COVID test kits available that will show results within 15 minutes.

Waseca County’s case rate per 10,000 topped the state last Thursday at 50.51, and Waseca County Public Health Director Sarah Berry doesn’t anticipate that number to drop when new data gets released Thursday.

MPR News contributed to this report.

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