- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 25, 2020

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - The Mississippi Department of Corrections is testing 500 inmates at a south Mississippi prison after a coronavirus outbreak, officials said Wednesday.

Seventeen inmates at South Mississippi Correctional Institution in Leakesville tested positive for the coronavirus over the past two weeks, the corrections department said in a news release. One inmate, who has a heart condition, is now hospitalized. Most are showing no symptoms.

The 17 inmates who tested positive are typically housed in three separate units. All 500 inmates in those units will be tested twice: once this week, and once next week “to ensure containment of the virus,” corrections officials wrote in a news release. The first rapid tests will be conducted Wednesday.

Those who test positive will be moved to a separate quarantine unit.

Corrections Commissioner Burl Cain said officials are doing “everything humanly possible” to ensure the safety of inmates and corrections officers.



“The fact that the virus still gets through all these stringent measures shows how contagious COVID-19 is,” he said.

The Department of Corrections is using electrostatic sanitizing sprayers every day in every unit; industrial ultraviolet sterilization lights; portable UV sterilizers; hand wand UV sterilizers; air purifiers and sanitization stations that mist as staff and inmates walk through the unit.

All vendors and staff are screened upon entry. Visitors have been prohibited since March.

Cain said the Department of Corrections and the Mississippi state Department of Health have increased their monitoring of all correctional facilities in the state.

A total of 17,160 inmates are incarcerated in Mississippi’s prison system, which has had 889 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, according to data analyzed by The Marshall Project and The Associated Press. As of Nov. 17, at least 197,659 people in U.S. prisons have tested positive for the virus.

New confirmed positive cases in prisons during the week of Nov. 17 reached their highest level since the start of the pandemic, outpacing the previous surge in early August, the data shows.

The state Health Department said Wednesday that Mississippi, with a population of about 3 million, has reported more than 145,600 confirmed coronavirus cases and at least 3,745 deaths from COVID-19 as of Tuesday evening. That’s an increase of 1,092 cases and 16 deaths from the day before. Fifteen deaths occurred between Nov. 2 and Tuesday and were identified later using death certificates.

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Leah Willingham is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

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