The Federal Bureau of Prisons confirmed Thursday that there have been positive COVID-19 cases among the inmates and staff at its Waseca prison.
According to department’s office of public affairs, the first positive COVID-19 test was received at Federal Correctional Institution-Waseca on Tuesday. Since then, the bureau has updated its website to show that the prison has one inmate and one staff member currently testing positive for COVID-19 and one additional inmate who has recovered from the virus.
The prison in Waseca is an all-female, low-security facility with a current population of 603 inmates.
“As testing resources have become more available, we are testing our inmate population more broadly, which is helping us to quickly identify and isolate positive cases to rapidly flatten the curve when outbreaks occur,” said Emery Nelson with the bureau's Policy and Public Affairs Division. Nelson said that the testing for all federal prisons is done through commercial labs and that deployment of additional resources is based on facility need to contain widespread transmission and the need for early, aggressive interventions.
“While a prison setting is unique when addressing a pandemic, the care and treatment of an identified positive COVID-19 case is not,” Nelson said, adding that inmates with a positive COVID-19 test are isolated and provided medical care in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. “Symptomatic inmates whose condition rises to the level of acute medical care will be transferred to a hospital setting; either at a local hospital or at an institution’s hospital care unit, if they have one.”
Nelson said that since June 19, all inmates entering or departing a federal prison facility are required to participate in a test in/out enhanced screening and quarantine/isolation process, with all inmates who enter an institution being tested for COVID-19 when they arrive. If an inmate is in isolation on their release date, the institution will notify the local health authorities in the location where the inmate is releasing to to coordinate and minimize exposure to the public.
Other procedures that the Waseca prison has adapted in accordance to CDC guidelines includes disinfecting all areas where inmates live and staff work, making individual bars of soap available throughout the prison and in cells, and conducting door-to-door wellness checks, according to Nelson.
“If an inmate reports feeling ill, she is immediately screened by health services personnel,” Nelson said.
Another precautionary measure during the COVID-19 pandemic to reduce the risk of exposure in federal prisons has been limiting in-person visitations. As of now, in-person visitation is not permitted at the Waseca facility.
“We realize that suspending social visiting has an impact on inmates and their loves ones, but our primary purpose in doing so is to help keep them and the community safe,” Nelson said. “In order to compensate for the absence of in-person visits, we increased monthly telephone minutes for all inmates from 300 to 500 minutes in recognition of how important it is for families to stay in touch during this time. Telephone calls are free to inmates for the duration of this emergency.”
Nelson said that video sessions are currently all free of charge to the inmates at the Waseca prison — as well as at 15 other facilities with a female population that offers the video service. He said that the system requires sessions be scheduled four days in advance.
The first positive case of COVID-19 at the Waseca prison comes nearly two months after the first confirmed case at Minnesota Correction Facility-Faribault. Since then, the state prison has had 205 confirmed COVID-19 cases in inmates, with two inmate deaths attributed to COVID-19.
Last week, a jail staffer at the Steele County Detention Center received a positive COVID-19 test result, initiating facility-wide testing. Last week, Rice County Sheriff Troy Dunn said that there had been no confirmed COVID-19 cases in inmates or staff at the Rice County Jail.
As of Friday, there have been 4,251 federal inmates and 400 BOP staff who have confirmed positive test results for COVID-19 nationwide. Currently, 5,891 inmates and 676 staff have recovered and there have been 99 federal inmate deaths and 1 BOP staff member death attributed to COVID-19.