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Memphis News & Weather | Memphis, TN | WATN - localmemphis.com

Tennessee to begin mass COVID-19 testing of inmates & staff at state prisons

So far, 1,909 inmates and staff at state prisons have been diagnosed with COVID-19. Most of them are asymptomatic.

The State of Tennessee will start testing all state prison inmates and staff for COVID-19 next week.

"Knowing the extent of the virus’s spread within our correctional facilities is critical as incarcerated individuals remain one of the most vulnerable populations during this pandemic,” said Gov. Bill  Lee. “Thanks to our increased capacity, we’ll test all inmates and staff statewide in order to take appropriate actions to safeguard the health of these vulnerable individuals.”

The Tennessee Dept. of Corrections (TDOC) said Friday there had been 1,246 COVID-19 positive cases, out of 2,450 total tests, among staff and inmates at the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center in Trousdale County, following a targeted testing event at the facility that began on April 28.

Two inmates have been hospitalized, according to Gov. Lee. He also said those that are infected are being held in separate units from those that tested negative.

Officials said 98 percent of those who tested positive are asymptomatic.

RELATED: TDOC Report: Thousands of inmates released from county jails in March as coronavirus concerns grew

RELATED: 576 inmates at Bledsoe County Correctional Complex test positive for COVID-19

“We’ve been in close coordination with TDOC as it began targeted COVID-19 testing of inmates and staff in early April,” said Unified Command Group Director Stuart McWhorter. “Given the increases in positive cases at the Bledsoe County and Trousdale Turner correctional facilities, despite the vast majority being asymptomatic, we are going to take the next steps in partnership with TDOC, Tennessee Department of Health (TDH), and Tennessee National Guard to support a broader testing strategy to promote the health and safety of staff and inmates. We will also coordinate plans with our local jails to assist them in safeguarding the health of their populations in the coming days.”.

TDOC is now working to coordinate the testing with contractors Centurion Managed Care and CoreCivic to begin COVID-19 testing next week of all staff and inmates at 10 other TDOC correctional facilities in the state.

“The Department of Correction is taking a proactive approach to ensure all staff and the entire inmate population is tested for COVID-19,” said TDOC Commissioner Tony Parker. “Our sixth round of mass testing will begin early next week with the remaining 10 facilities conducting testing. With the support and leadership of Governor Lee, Tennessee is leading the nation in our approach to widespread mass testing.”

The state has already tested prisoners and staff at the Bledsoe County and Northwest Correctional Complexes on April 10, and at the Turney Center Industrial Complex on April 19.

RELATED: 19 TN correctional facilities employees test positive for COVID-19

RELATED: TDOC suspends visitation at all Tennessee state prisons

COVID-19 testing at the Bledsoe facility indicated 583 positive staff and inmate cases, among 2,322 tested; 40 positive cases out of 902 staff and inmates tested at Northwest; and 40 positive cases out of 313 staff and inmates tested at Turney Center.

Most of those were asymptomatic cases.

All inmates who test positive and are asymptomatic receive daily medical monitoring and health assessments.

Those who may become symptomatic but don’t require additional care, such as respiratory support, will be treated in place or at local hospitals, depending on their needs. Staff will self-quarantine and are monitored for symptoms and are encouraged to contact their healthcare provider.