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Inmate virus cases go up as more testing done in prisons
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Inmate virus cases go up as more testing done in prisons

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Prison Crowding Nebraska

Prisoners populate a yard at the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln on June 25. 

More COVID-19 testing at the state's prisons is showing increased cases among inmates. 

Department of Correctional Services Director Scott Frakes said inmates living in the affected prisons have been cooperative as the staff has taken steps to reduce the spread of the virus, including not allowing outside visitors. 

Additional inmates have tested positive for the virus at the Nebraska State Penitentiary and the Diagnostic and Evaluation Center on a second testing opportunity provided to inmates at the penitentiary in the past two weeks. Of 453 tests administered this week, 82 were positive so far. A handful of tests are still outstanding.

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“Testing included those who tested previously at NSP as well as those who volunteered to be tested for the first time,” Frakes said.

Testing was initiated at the penitentiary on Aug. 28 when an inmate in a minimum security housing unit became positive. Following the diagnosis of additional cases, the entire facility was placed on quarantine.

“We have expanded the space utilized for medical isolation in order to best manage current and emerging positive cases,” Frakes said. “By doing that, we hope to return the higher security housing units to normal operations in the next day or so, thereby ending the facility wide quarantine.”

At the Diagnostic and Evaluation Center, 15 additional inmates have been diagnosed as positive for the virus since testing was conducted at the facility last week.

“Managing those who are healthy, COVID-positive and individuals who may have symptoms involves a lot of moving parts," he said. "It is certainly not the most convenient situation for those living in NSP or DEC. But, inmates living in both facilities have been very cooperative as we have taken necessary steps to reduce spread of the virus.”

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It is likely that additional cases of coronavirus will emerge, he said.

Across the country, prisons and jails have been the sites of many top COVID-19 national hot spots because of inmates living and interacting in close quarters. 

“As in the community, this is a very fluid situation and we need to stay nimble to ever-changing circumstances," Frakes said. "Until we know where we stand with this illness, we will continue to keep visitation closed as a means to reduce further transmission of COVID-19.”

As of Wednesday, 72 prisons staff members have been diagnosed with COVID-19. Sixty-one of those have recovered.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com

On Twitter @LJSLegislature

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