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COVID-19 spreading rapidly inside Menard Correctional Center
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COVID-19 spreading rapidly inside Menard Correctional Center

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CHESTER — COVID-19 is spreading rapidly inside Menard Correctional Center.

As of Tuesday, the state is reporting a total of 25 active cases among employees and 60 among inmates. Another 25 employees and two inmates have recovered from COVID-19, according to the Illinois Department of Corrections.

The first inmate tested positive on Aug. 13.

While other state prisons have also grappled with outbreaks, Jobi Cates, executive director of Restore Justice, a Chicago-based organization that advocates for the humane treatment of prisoners, said she’s particularly concerned about the outbreak at Menard.

Many of the facilities that make up Menard, which opened in 1878, are outdated, lacking in proper physical space and ventilation as seen in newer prisons, Cates said. The facility has been cited on numerous occasions for failing to provide adequate health care. A new health care provider recently took over, but Cates said she’s not convinced that adequate resources have been dedicated to the prison to overcome past challenges. Also making the health situation more dire, she said, is that Menard tends to house inmates who are older, because many of the inmates sent there are serving longer sentences.

“It’s sort of a perfect storm of factors that make it a really scary place to see the numbers going up day over day the way they have been this week and last week,” Cates said.

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IDOC maintains that it is doing what it can to limit the spread inside all of its facilities. The agency “remains deliberate and aggressive in its response to COVID-19,” said spokeswoman Lindsey Hess, in an emailed response to The Southern. Hess said that Menard is on medical quarantine status with restricted movement.

All staff entering the building must first submit to a health screening, including a temperature check. Staff and inmates are equipped with personal protective equipment and have access to antibacterial soap, hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies, she said. Further, she said the facility activated its Incident Command Center, modeled after FEMA's National Incident Command System, to “set and achieve aggressive objectives” related to the outbreak.

COVID-19 numbers in Southern Illinois

This information will be updated daily with the latest numbers from local health departments in Southern Illinois. The numbers reflect new lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases reported in the last day, total cases, new COVID-19 deaths reported in the last day, total COVID-19 deaths, and recoveries. Some health departments don't report numbers on weekends or holidays. A dash indicates a county's health department did not make a report as of deadline.

County New Cases Total Cases New Deaths Total Deaths Recovered
Alexander 2 441 0 6 422
Franklin 8 4240 0 58 2716
Gallatin 1 477 0 4 452
Hamilton -- 758 -- 17 734
Hardin 0 354 0 10 335
Jackson -- 4624 -- 68 4507
Jefferson 4 4096 0 75 3972
Johnson 6 1346 1 11 1316
Massac 5 1254 0 28 1192
Perry -- 3145 -- 60 3042
Pope 0 285 0 1 283
Pulaski 3 663 0 4 650
Randolph 4 3973 0 82 3874
Saline 4 2439 1 47 2282
Union 2 2139 2 30 2082
Williamson 4 7011 0 115 4252
White 3 1688 0 26 1574

Offenders who develop symptoms suggestive of COVID-19 are assumed to be at high risk for the disease and are isolated and tested. Menard Correctional Center has dedicated a specific cellhouse as an isolation unit for COVID-19-positive offenders. To help manage outbreaks, Hess said the department utilizes point prevalence testing — that is, testing a group of people at once — to identify others who are asymptomatic but may have been exposed to the virus. This strategy offers a snapshot of the extent of the spread, she said. All asymptomatic offenders are quarantined and monitored for symptoms.

Hess said IDOC continues to review the latest scientific evidence and is in close contact with correctional agencies across the nation to identify best practices. “Our practices are modified based on new information and technology,” she said.

Across all of IDOC’s facilities, the state has reported a total of 438 positive cases among employees, 321 of which have recovered, and 743 cases among inmates, 478 of which have recovered. 14 inmates have died — 13 at Stateville Correctional Center and 1 at Pontiac Correctional Center, both in upstate Illinois.

Take a peek inside Cairo's historic Magnolia Manor

molly.parker@thesouthern.com

618-351-5079

On Twitter: @MollyParkerSI ​

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