Johnson County experiences state’s first reported COVID-19 case in a prison, second death of a resident

An inmate at the Iowa Medical Classification Center Correctional Facility practices yoga. Thursday, March 21, 2018. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

The first case of COVID-19 in the state’s prison system was reported on Friday. According to the Iowa Department of Corrections (DOC), a correctional officer at the Iowa Medical and Classification Center in Coralville — or as the facility is better known, Oakdale Prison — has tested positive for the virus.

The officer began experiencing symptoms between Wednesday and Thursday, and has not been to work since the symptoms began, according to DOC. The officer, who is between 18 and 40, is reportedly recovering at home.

“The department has implemented pre-established action steps and procedures for identifying COVID-19 contacts with staff and offenders and quarantining those exposed. The department is taking every appropriate measure to ensure that the impact on staff and inmates can be mitigated as much as possible,” DOC said in a statement provided to Iowa Public Radio.

“People in prisons and jails are highly vulnerable to outbreaks of contagious illnesses,” ACLU of Iowa Executive Director Mark Stringer warned last month. “They are housed in close quarters. Many were already in poor health when they were incarcerated. This makes for a perfect storm for outbreaks of COVID-19.”

Spread of the virus has become a problem in state and federal prisons around the country. The Washington Post reported on Friday that nine inmates in federal prison have died from COVID-19 during the last three weeks.

According to the Post, the number of inmates in federal prisons testing positive for the virus is increasing at an alarming rate.

The numbers of covid-19 cases in the Bureau of Prisons are rising exponentially, at a pace far surpassing the U.S. population at large. On March 20, the bureau’s website reported just two covid-19-positive inmates and staff; two weeks later, it reported 174 confirmed cases. That’s an increase of 8,600 percent, a much steeper rate of increase than has been recorded among the general population. And because testing has been grossly insufficient, these numbers are almost certainly an undercount.

A DOC spokesperson told Little Village last month that Iowa’s state prisons have “robust policy and plans in place related to pandemic viruses.” At that time, DOC had already said it was working on plans to expedite the release of 700 prisoners who were already designated as eligible for release by the Iowa Board of Parole, in order to reduce overcrowding.

When DOC announced the expedited release plan last month Iowa’s state prison were operated at 23 percent beyond their designed capacities. According to DOC latest statistics, the state’s eight prisons were overcrowded by 22 percent on Friday.

The overcrowding is worse at Oakdale. It is operating at 44 percent beyond its designed capacity.

The total number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Iowa now stands at 1,510. On Saturday, the Iowa Department of Public Health reported another 122 Iowans had tested positive for the virus, including nine residents of Johnson County and 10 residents of Linn County.

• Allamakee County, 1 older adult (61-80 years)

• Benton County, 1 middle-age adult (41-60 years)

• Black Hawk County, 3 adults (18-40 years), 3 older adults (61-80 years)

• Bremer County, 1 elderly adult (81+)

• Buena Vista County, 1 middle-age adult (41-60 years)

• Clayton County, 1 adult (18-40 years)

• Clinton County, 4 middle-age adult (41-60 years)

• Dallas County, 1 middle-age adult (41-60 years)

• Delaware County, 1 older adult (61-80 years)

• Henry County, 1 middle-age adult (41-60 years), 1 older adult (61-80 years)

• Jefferson County, 1 middle-age adult (41-60 years)

• Johnson County, 7 adults (18-40 years), 2 middle-age adults (41-60 years)

• Linn County, 2 adults (18-40 years), 3 middle-age adults (41-60 years), 4 older adults (61-80 years), 1 elderly adult (81+)

• Louisa County, 4 adults (18-40 years), 9 middle-age adults (41-60 years), 1 older adult (61-80 years)

• Madison County, 1 older adult (61-80 years)

• Marion County, 1 adult (18-40 years)

• Marshall County, 7 adults (18-40 years), 1 middle-age adult (41-60 years)

• Muscatine County, 8 adults (18-40 years), 1 middle-age adult (41-60 years), 2 older adults (61-80 years)

• Polk County, 9 adults (18-40 years), 2 middle-age adults (41-60 years), 5 older adults (61-80 years)

• Scott County, 1 adult (18-40 years), 5 middle-age adults (41-60 years), 6 older adults (61-80 years)

• Tama County, 3 adults (18-40 years), 3 middle-age adults (41-60 years), 1 older adult (61-80 years)

• Wapello County, 1 middle-age adult (41-60 years)

• Washington County, 2 adults (18-40 years), 6 middle-age adults (41-60 years), 1 older adult (61-80 years)

• Woodbury County, 3 middle-age adults (41-60 years)

IDPH also reported the deaths of three more people infected with COVID-19, including a Johnson County resident, who was over the age of 80. The other two deceased individuals were between the ages of 61 and 80. One was from Crawford County, the other was from Madison County.

The deaths reported on Saturday brings the number of COVID-19 fatalities in Iowa to 34.

The spread of the virus has also led to the closure of another meat processing plant in the state. On Friday, National Beef announced its plant in Tama will be closed until at least April 20.

“Numerous employees have tested positive for COVID-19 and additional team members are exhibiting flu-like symptoms,” the Times-Republican reported.

On Monday, the Tyson pork plant in Columbus Junction closed temporarily after more than two dozen employees tested positive for COVID-19.

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