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With "aggressive" testing, coronavirus cases spike at Ohio prisons

Prison in the time of coronavirus
Prison in the time of coronavirus 07:35

The number of coronavirus cases has spiked to nearly 4,000 in the Ohio prison system, a number that state officials are attributing to "aggressive" testing. The Marion Correctional Institution has become one of the top hotspots in the country, where 2,011 inmates and 154 staffers have tested positive, officials said.

As of Tuesday, there were 3,762 inmates and 319 staffers who tested positive system-wide. Nine inmates and one staffer have died from the virus, according to the state's Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. That's about 30% of all cases in Ohio. There have been 12,516 positive cases total across the state, along with 509 deaths, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

"A lot of the problems are we don't have a lot of personal protective equipment going into this episode," said Christopher Mabe, president of the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, which represents nearly 8,000 correctional officers. "It's virtually impossible to social distance in a prison," Mabe told CBS affiliate WBNS.

The state's Department of Rehabilitation and Correction attributed the rapid rise in cases to an "aggressive" approach to testing, which includes testing of all staff and inmates at Marion, the Pickaway Correctional Institution and the Franklin Medical Center.

"Because we are testing everyone — including those who are not showing symptoms — we are getting positive test results on individuals who otherwise would have never been tested because they were asymptomatic," the department said in a statement. 

Governor Mike DeWine last week approved the release of 105 inmates under the state's emergency overcrowding law and commuted six sentences through the state's parole board, his office said in a statement. 

"While we know coronavirus does pose a specific threat to congregate settings, this comprehensive testing will give us insight on both how to best coordinate response at these facilities, as well as data and insight on how comprehensive testing within a cohort will affect testing numbers," DeWine said in a statement Tuesday. "I want Ohioans to know that these numbers do not necessarily indicate a new problem at these facilities, but simply wider testing."

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