ST. PAUL — State health and corrections officials reported Friday, April 3, that they'd seen an uptick in reported cases of the coronavirus among corrections facility staff and inmates.
Seven of those in custody at Moose Lake Correctional Facility tested positive for COVID-19 and 13 were presumed to be positive for the illness caused by the coronavirus, Department of Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell said. And one staff member there tested positive and another was presumed to have the disease.
At the Red Wing Juvenile Correctional Facility, one staff member tested positive for COVID-19 and another was presumed to have the illness, Schnell said. Juvenile residents there were quarantined.
Schnell said the department this week began implementing a "stay with unit" policy for the Moose Lake facility and would continue rolling out the rule for other facilities in coming days. The rule was aimed to limit the interaction of residents from different units in an attempt to mitigate COVID-19 spread.
“Our stay with unit plans are designed to minimize the potential for the spread by increasing the opportunity for social distancing and provide for unit separation that reduces the opportunity for serious outbreaks," Schnell told reporters.
The Department of Corrections had previously started taking actions to restrict potential spread among corrections staff and those housed in the corrections facilities. Schnell said the department last month began screening staff for the illness, setting up and washing and sanitizing stations, educating staff and inmates about the virus and prevention techniques and modified visitor policies and programs in the facilities. And those in the corrections system who had concerns about health issues were being given the option to eat their meals in their housing units to prevent potential contraction of the virus.
On Thursday, masks were distributed to staff and inmates across the corrections system, Schnell said.
The department is also looking to release nonviolent individuals who are 90 days away from completing their sentences and are reviewing petitions to grant a conditional medical release. Those released would be supervised by local Department of Corrections field officers.
"Those provisions are being looked at and what conditional medical release may mean in a COVID-19 environment," he said. "We have received a number of petitions for that and are looking at those in accordance with law."
Civil liberties groups and inmate advocates had called on the state to consider releasing non-violent offenders and those with medical conditions to prevent their risk of contracting the illness while incarcerated.