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State penitentiary COVID-19 cases among staff lead to modified lockdown
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State penitentiary COVID-19 cases among staff lead to modified lockdown

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Prison Crowding Nebraska

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

The Nebraska State Penitentiary went on modified lockdown Thursday, limiting inmate movement due to staff absences because of COVID-19 cases.

The prison implemented the lockdown to maintain safe operations, said Laura Strimple, Department of Correctional Services chief of staff.

Two more staff members at the penitentiary tested positive Wednesday for the virus, bringing the total staff with the virus at the prison to 74 since April 4. Systemwide, 141 staff have contracted coronavirus, and more than half work at the penitentiary.

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Numbers at the Lincoln prison began to ramp up around Sept. 10. Forty-seven penitentiary staff have been diagnosed since then.

As of Friday, 121 inmates at the prison had an active case of COVID-19, meaning they had tested positive and were medically isolated. Fourteen percent of those tested have been positive, according to numbers made public Friday. 

Staff cases have been reported at other Nebraska prisons, including the Lincoln Correctional Center, the Diagnostic and Evaluation Center, Tecumseh State Correctional Institution and the Omaha Correctional Center.

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"We continue to monitor and respond to the staffing situation daily," Strimple said Thursday. "As staff members are cleared to return from quarantine or medical isolation, they are able to return to work."

Correctional staff are considered essential workers, she said. 

"Since the onset of COVID-19, they have stepped up tremendously," Strimple said. The department "could not have managed the last seven months without that level of dedication."

It is only recently, she said, that the coronavirus has more significantly impacted staff, as well as inmates, particularly at the state penitentiary.

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See the top stories on coronavirus in Lincoln and Nebraska since the pandemic first affected the area in March.

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So far, 376 employees have asked for some kind of accommodations from LPS, including requests to work remotely, take leave or modify their work spaces with plexiglass barriers or additional PPE.

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Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody and South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson are taking the lead on the coalition. The letter is also signed by attorneys general in Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Tennessee and West Virginia.

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

On Twitter @LJSLegislature

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