Inmates in Nebraska's 10 prisons may voluntarily seek coronavirus testing even if they show no symptoms, Nebraska Department of Correctional Services Director Scott Frakes said in a news release.
Prison health care workers will swab the inmates and send the samples for analysis to labs handling results for Test Nebraska, Frakes said.
The move marks an expansion of testing available to inmates. Initially only those exposed to a staff member who had coronavirus were tested. Later, testing was expanded to older inmates with the launch of Test Nebraska.
To date, seven inmates in the prison system have tested positive for COVID-19.
All seven inmates live at Community Corrections Center-Omaha, a minimum security prison, which Frakes praised for its handling of an outbreak.
Of the 192 eligible inmates over 65, 110 opted for testing through Test Nebraska, Frakes said, and so far none of those tests have been positive.
Voluntary testing of other inmates will run through the end of the month, he said.
If an inmate requests testing after testing dates scheduled at their facility, staff will medically assess them to determine if they need testing, Frakes said.
The prisons have followed virus prevention measures such as wearing masks, limiting movement and screening inmates for symptoms and risk factors since March, Frakes said.
Those measures won't go away because of testing, he added.
On Tuesday, the department reported its 19th staff member had tested positive for COVID-19.
This employee, who works at the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution, is isolating at home, and those people who have close contact with the employee will be notified and asked to quarantine.
To date, 10 of the 19 employees have returned to work after recovering from the virus, according to the department.
"Fortunately for most, their symptoms have been mild and they continue to return to work following a period of self-isolation,” Frakes said. “The level of dedication that staff members have demonstrated during this pandemic has been nothing short of amazing."
See the top stories on coronavirus in Lincoln and Nebraska since the pandemic first affected the area in March.
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