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UPDATE: BOP website confirms staff coronavirus cases reported at USP Thomson

(KWQC)
Published: Aug. 19, 2020 at 2:19 PM CDT
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UPDATE: THOMSON, Ill. (KWQC) -The Bureau of Prisons is now reporting on its website there are 38 active cases of coronavirus at USP Thomson prison.

That number includes 18 inmates and 20 staff, according to the website.

This comes one day after TV6 obtained an email sent to staff by the prison warden.

On Wednesday, the Bureau of Prisons would not confirm to TV6 that any staff members had tested positive. That information also was not on its website.

ORIGINAL: THOMSON, Ill. (KWQC) - According to the Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) coronavirus resource page, nine inmates are currently positive with COVID-19 at USP Thomson prison, an update from Wednesday morning where two inmates were confirmed positive.

The BOP website currently says no staff members at USP Thomson have COVID-19, however, a source confirms to TV6 at least 20 staff members have tested positive.

TV6 has obtained an email sent by the Warden at USP Thomson to staff on Aug. 17 that reads, in part, “We are at nearly 20 staff confirmed positives and only two inmate positive cases. These numbers indicate we are doing a good job when it comes to our interactions with inmates.” The letter further asks any staff with positive pending cases to refrain from returning to work until negative test results are received and the person no longer exhibits symptoms.

The BOP’s Office of Public Affairs tells TV6, “Due to the rapidly evolving nature of this public health crisis, the BOP will update the open COVID-19 confirmed-positive test numbers, the number of COVID-19 tests conducted, and the number of COVID-19 related deaths daily on our Coronavirus resource page.”

The BOP said Wednesday, “To enhance mitigation efforts, USP Thomson began COVID-19 testing for 100% of the inmate population this week. USP Thomson is utilizing the Abbott Rapid Test machine to conduct the tests.”

The positive test numbers are based on recent confirmed results involving open cases. The number of open cases, the BOP said, reflects current cases only, which have not been resolved.

“The total number of open, positive test, COVID-19 cases fluctuates up and down as new cases are added and resolved cases are removed. USP Thomson, like all of our institutions, follows CDC guidance the same as community doctors and hospitals with regard to quarantine and isolation procedures, along with providing appropriate treatment,” said the BOP.

The BOP said contact investigations are conducted to identify any potential exposures and may include widespread testing. Symptomatic inmates, whose condition reaches the level of needing acute medical care are transferred to a hospital setting, at either a local hospital, or an institution’s hospital care unit, if they have one.

According to the BOP, measures to mitigate COVID-19 spread are in place such as screening and temperature check by a staff member or contractor wearing PPE prior to entering the facility. Anyone who registers a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher will be denied access to the facility.

The BOP said, “As much as possible, staff are being assigned to the same posts and not rotating, as an additional measure to mitigate the spread of the virus.We cannot require that staff members be tested for COVID-19. However, for those staff that are presenting with symptoms or have been identified as a close contact of a COVID-19 diagnosed individual, given the critical role our staff play with regard to public safety, we have developed a letter for staff who are in close contact of a COVID-19 positive individual to provide to the local Health Department, to ensure such persons receive priority COVID-19 testing. Because staff are typically tested in the community, we are unable to provide the total number of correctional officers that have been tested. Symptomatic or positive staff self-quarantine at their homes.”

“Social distancing inside a prison is difficult to achieve, especially with an open dormitory style setting. USP Thomson tackled this challenge by opening additional housing unit ranges to create space and serve as quarantine locations. On the prison grounds, multiple temperature-controlled field living quarters are being utilized for housing,” said the BOP.

The BOP released additional information to TV6 on Wednesday about the measures being taken, writing, “An additional measure employed to stem the spread of the virus is restricting inmate use of telephone and email stations. This action was taken to prevent transmission of the virus by multiple people touching keyboards and telephone handsets. USP Thomson will continue to evaluate this approach and will make these communication avenues available as soon as possible. The institution recognizes how important it is to maintain family contact during these uncertain times. As such, inmate friends and families are strongly encouraged to continue corresponding by mailing letters through the U.S. Postal Service.”

The BOP said the prison has an ample amount of personal protective equipment (PPE) and all staff and inmates have been issued cloth face coverings.

According to information provided by the BOP, to protect the public, all inmates releasing to the community are to quarantine for 14 days and are screened prior to their departure. If a court order requires immediate release, the inmate is screened prior to release.

“USP Thomson continues to be deeply concerned for the health and welfare of inmates entrusted to the institution’s care and for the staff that live in the surrounding communities. USP Thomson’s staff are vested in ensuring public safety and continue to diligently and safely carry out their responsibilities, said the Bureau of Prisons Office of Public Affairs.

AFGE LOCAL 4070 UNION RESPONDS:

Jon Zumkehr, Local 4070 President released a statement to TV6 which reads, “Local 4070 is disappointed that the staff members are not given the option to get tested at work and will have to go on their own time to get tested. We are also requesting hazard pay and AFGE has a lawsuit fighting for Hazard pay for federal workers.”

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