MCF-Faribault COVID

In this Monday, Jan. 4, 2021 photo, a red tag hangs on a cell door, signifying an active COVID-19 case for its inhabitants at Minnesota Correctional Facility-Faribault. (Aaron Lavinsky/Star Tribune via AP, File)

ST. CLOUD, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota Correctional Facility in St. Cloud has the largest outbreak of coronavirus cases in the state’s prison system in months.

According to corrections officials, 242 inmates last week tested positive last for COVID-19. As of Monday, that number had grown to 278. That’s nearly a quarter of the inmate population at the St. Cloud prison.

By contrast, the number of COVID cases at Minnesota Correctional Facility-Faribault is relatively low. As of Monday, the Department of Corrections reported two of its current 1,728 inmates have tested positive for COVID, just a fraction of a percent of those incarcerated at the state’s largest prison by population.

The state Department of Corrections is working with the Department of Health to determine why cases have spiked in St. Cloud since protocols haven’t changed, WCCO-TV reported.

Officials say a number of factors may be in play; including growing rates of community spread, the need for booster shots as vaccines wane and a switch to the prison’s heating system instead of circulating fresh air.

New COVID-19 concerns come at a time the union that represents corrections officers has sounded the alarm over what they call dangerous staffing levels statewide. The pandemic had led to early retirement for some officers who don’t feel safe in a difficult setting for a highly-infectious disease, the union said.

“This is a department-wide problem, and this is a safety issue,” said Dan Gorman, a corrections officer at Stillwater and union president. “Some people chose to made that decision to leave a job they loved and they were committed to, some earlier than they wanted to.”

Gorman says in his 16 years at Stillwater prison, he’s never seen staff numbers so low.

“They’re required to work sometimes 16 hours back-to-back days to make sure we have the coverage needed and necessary to maintain the security levels of these institutions,” Gorman said.

While MCF-Faribault currently has a low rate of COVID among inmates, it’s had the greatest number of COVID-related deaths in the DOC system. Of the 12 inmates who died while in DOC custody, eight were on-site at MCF-Faribault when they tested positive for the corona- virus.

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