- Associated Press - Monday, November 9, 2020

Two more Iowa prisons are reporting outbreaks of coronavirus infections, according to the Iowa Department of Corrections.

Recent testing has revealed outbreaks at prisons in Clarinda, where 377 inmates and 16 staff members are positive, and Rockwell City, where 254 inmates and four staff members are positive, a DOC report updated Sunday shows. The Clarinda prison has about 900 inmates and Rockwell City has 426.

The department released data Friday showing an outbreak at the Anamosa prison and the updated numbers show 485 infected inmates of the 982 inmates at the prison. An additional 50 staff members tested positive.

The outbreaks have contributed to high virus positivity rates in the counties where they are located. Jones County, where Anamosa is located, has the state’s highest 14-day positivity rate at 42.6%. A county health official said the county spread of the virus was troubling without the prison numbers, but the hundreds of positives in the prison elevates the county’s positivity rate.

Additional smaller prison outbreaks are reported at Mount Pleasant, where 18 inmates and five staff members are positive and the women’s prison in Mitchellville where four inmates and 10 staff members are positive.

The Iowa Medical and Classification Center at Coralville has four inmates and four staff members positive and the prison in Fort Dodge has an inmate and four staff members testing positive.

In total, 1,145 inmates and 103 staff members are positive in the state’s prisons, a dramatic increase from last week’s reported numbers.

Danny Homan, president of AFSCME Council 61, which represents state workers at the prisons, criticized Gov. Kim Reynolds and her administration for “ignoring common sense precautions in this state.”

“They can blame whomever they want but the people who are responsible for this outbreak inside the Department of Corrections is the governor and the management of these institutions. In my opinion they’ve done a terrible, terrible job,” he said.

Homan said he’s recommended the department stop admissions to the prisons for a few weeks. He also called on the state to allow prison employees who test positive to be placed on administrative leave instead of requiring them to use their own leave time.

Corrections spokesman Cord Overton said the new cases were revealed in mass testing conducted last week.

“Dealing with cases of COVID-19 is nothing new for this department. To date, we have had over 1,200 inmates recover from the virus. In the past and currently, the vast majority of inmates have either been asymptomatic or had mild symptoms of COVID-19,” he said.

Those with more severe symptoms or at a higher-risk of complications are given extra medical observation to ensure that if hospital care becomes necessary, they receive it as quickly as possible. He said movement is restricted in facilities with outbreaks.

Overton said the department follows the state’s guidelines for employees to use sick and vacation leave when out with the virus but the policy allows for the use of paid administrative leave in instances where it is highly likely that an employee contracted COVID-19 from a workplace exposure.

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