Stay-at-home order extended as COVID-19 Cases in region rise
Moose Lake prison takes action to combat further disease transmission
April 10, 2020
As confirmed and unconfirmed cases of COVID-19 certainly continue to climb across the state, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz congratulated citizens Wednesday for "overreaching" and helping slow the spread of the disease. He also extended his stay-at-home order from the original end date of April 10 until May 4, along with limiting bars and restaurants to takeout only for the same period of time.
The point of extending the orders is to buy Minnesota more time to prepare for the spread of the disease, and gain needed supplies and treatment spaces, along with more time for research. Extending the curbs will push the expected disease peak to mid-July, Walz said, adding that the state will need at least 3,000 ICU beds by then.
The governor did not talk about schools, but last week he conceded that it is unlikely students will return to in-person school this year. For now, the order for schools to implement distance learning continues through May 4.
Across the state Wednesday, as this issue of the Pine Knot News went to press, confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 had reached 1,154, with 39 deaths and 632 patients who had recovered and no longer needed to be isolated, according to figures released by the Minnesota Department of Health.
Because of a lack of available tests, most people with less serious symptoms are not tested.
Exceptions to that rule, for now, are public safety and healthcare workers, and people in congregate living situations such as nursing homes and prisons or jails.
In Carlton County Wednesday, MDH put the number of COVID-19 confirmed cases at 14, including nine confirmed cases among inmates at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Moose Lake, and zero deaths.
The Minnesota Department of Corrections reported Wednesday that nine offenders in Moose Lake have tested positive so far, along with eight staff members. Results from one additional inmate test are still pending. The DOC report did not mention where the staff members live, but stated that the individuals have "all experienced mild symptoms and do not require hospitalization."
The MCF-Moose Lake serves 1,062 inmates, and employs a total of 369 staff members.
The numbers of confirmed cases have leveled off at the prison in Moose Lake after climbing last week. DOC spokesman Nicholas Kimball said testing has not stopped, but there certainly have been more cases of COVID-19 than show up on the DOC's daily report, because not everyone is tested.
"We follow MDH protocol for how testing is conducted," Kimball told the Pine Knot News. "If a person has symptoms and is known to have had close contact to a person confirmed positive through testing, they are presumed positive, treated as positive with isolation and medical care provided, and not tested."
Including 23 who are presumed positive, the estimated number of infected inmates - currently sick and recovered - in Moose Lake sits at 32.
An inmate death Sunday was not COVID-19, officials said, reporting that the man had complained of heartburn before collapsing in the shower.
Moose Lake remains the only Minnesota prison where any inmates have tested positive for COVID-19. On Wednesday, the DOC shared details about a new "Stay with Unit" plan that the Moose Lake correctional facility has implemented to protect staff and inmates. The plan keeps inmates only with others in their living unit for daily activities. Each DOC facility has developed and implemented a similar plan.
"Our goal is to protect both staff and the people who are incarcerated in our facilities," DOC Commissioner Paul Schnell said. "By providing living unit separation, better social distancing becomes possible. We protect both staff and offenders, and we reduce the potential for our facilities to add stress to local health care systems."
The oldest part of the MCF-Moose Lake facility has been in operation since 1938, first operating as a state hospital. The facility has operated as a prison since 1993. It is a complex and complicated environment with different living conventions, including single cells and group cells housing up to eight offenders. The facility has eight general living units and one segregation unit, with a total capacity of 1,075 beds.
According to the DOC, under normal operations, incarcerated people from different living units might be intermingled for certain activities, including in the dining hall, educational programming, or facility industry or work opportunities. With close living quarters in most prisons, this intermingling can allow a virus like COVID-19 to spread quickly, among both staff and offenders. Moose Lake warden Bill Bolin said they have taken the potential impact of COVID-19 seriously from the start.
"While we wanted to keep COVID-19 out of the facility, we planned for the likelihood that we would have cases here, just like communities have seen around the world," he said, pointing to steps taken to continually disinfect the facility, ensure proper hygiene, and help staff know how to protect their families when they go home.
According to the DOC release, the Moose Lake prison has implemented a number of measures to protect staff and their families.
As at health care facilities, staff have received information on protecting their families while they continue to come to work every day, and posters at the facility provide guidance on washing hands when they leave work, designating a door just for them for entering and exiting their houses, changing clothes and showering when they get home, avoiding sharing food, and more.
The prison has also installed new hand washing stations: four in the lobby entrance and one at the truck gate, along with two more for the offender population in the main hallways and 57 additional hand sanitizer receptacles.
Additionally, cloth masks are being created by inmates and distributed to staff and inmates at all DOC facilities, with 1,500 already distributed at the Moose Lake and Willow River facilities, along with instructions for putting them on and taking them off safely. Moose Lake Health Services staff have N95 masks, and there are a limited number of N95s for corrections officers to use when escorting symptomatic inmates to isolation, or when packing up the property of a symptomatic inmate.
The gym at the Moose Lake prison is currently being set up as a "step-down" area for inmates who had COVID-19 symptoms that have resolved. They have to stay in the gym for seven days before returning to the general prison population.
All in-person visiting at DOC facilities has been suspended until further notice due to the pandemic.