LISBON – While the number of COVID-19 cases in the Columbiana District increased by 11 to a total of 53, many new local cases came from federal prisons in Elkton, prompting Governor Mike DeWine to send the Ohio National Guard to help.
US Vice President Bill Johnson said 23 detainees and two staff members had been confirmed with a coronavirus at the FCI-Elkton prison. The Federal Prison Bureau (BOP) said eight inmates and one guard were confirmed with a coronavirus in prison on Monday night.
Joseph Mayle, union president representing 280 of 320 employees in prisons with low security of 2,450 beds, said 29 inmates were currently hospitalized in areas with either COVID-19 or symptoms and nine of them were using ventilators. Mayle also said the number of staff members who did positive tests was actually three.
No matter which number is correct, family members have contacted politicians and the news media expressing their concern for their loved ones who are jailed in prison.
Since learning about this problem, Johnson said that he had made contact with the federal Prison Bureau, the Department of Justice, DeWine and his team and wardens in prison, officials with the Ohio National Guard and at the local hospital where patients were being treated.
DeWine also said that starting on Friday and over the weekend, he began to receive phone calls about what happened at the prison in Elkton, the only federal prison in the state. DeWine said after speaking with people in prison, the office of the Ohio National State Guards General Major John C. Harris Jr., DeWine said he was sure there was “There’s no doubt this prison needs help.”
“General Harris told me that Elkton’s medical staff are currently only 50 percent of what they should be,” DeWine said, “And for every federal inmate at the hospital they need two guards on guard and some prisoners are now in the community at this hospital.”
DeWine announced the advance of the Ohio National Guard was in Elkton prison on Monday and that there will be 26 Ohio National Guard officers sent to help at the Elkton hospital, which will not be armed and will not provide security. Instead they are medical personnel there to help those who suffer from coronavirus and those who have symptoms of COVID-19. If a surge occurs, the guards will help treat several people, prepare other prisoners for transportation and will bring an ambulance to transport those who need hospital medical care.
“We have to protect staff and convicts in Elkton from the COVID-19 outbreak, and right now the facility is like a petri dish, a breeding ground for viruses,” Said Johnson. “Staff members return to their families and communities after work shifts, and prisoners are close to one another with limited means of isolation or quarantine.”
In addition to the Ohio National Guard, Johnson said the US Army Engineer Corps will help at the Elkton facility. In addition, Johnson said he was concerned about the possibility of local hospitals running the risk of being overwhelmed, suggesting that they should be prepared in case of a sudden outbreak in the local community. He called what happened in Elkton something that he monitored and monitored “All hands on the deck” situation.
“We have a moral responsibility to protect the health and safety of staff and inmates at the Elkton facility … and, that’s what we will do,” Said Johnson.
State Medical Director Dr. Amy Acton said his office had also talked to health professionals in the Columbiana District about the situation of the Elkton prison, including at the Salem Regional Medical Center and East Liverpool City Hospital. Acton said he believed they were doing a fantastic job, but the state also brought other regional assistance to the local hospital here.
“We brought SUMA, Mercy, the Cleveland Clinic and Trinity and all of them worked collectively to make sure we balance patients so that no hospital was overwhelmed when there was an outbreak in any environment in Ohio,” Said Acton. “It was incredible. That’s exactly what we want to see to ensure we balance the pressure on our health care system, so I’m very, very proud and optimistic about how we respond. “
The Ohio National Guard will remain at FCI-Elkton for a limited period of seven to 10 days, until additional federal assistance arrives, DeWine said. He added that while Elkton is a federal prison, the people who work there are mainly Ohio citizens and they go home to their families, who live in the area. When a prisoner is sick, they go to the local hospital.
“We are all together and giving state aid to prisons is the right thing to do,” DeWine said.
Because of the surge in positive cases in some of their prisons and the direction of Attorney General A. William Barr, the Federal Prison Bureau announced it had begun reviewing all prisoners for possible confinement at home. They looked for those who had COVID-19 risk factors which immediately started with those in the three highest number prisons, including FCI-Elkton.
DeWine said because Elkton was a federal facility, he wanted family members of prisoners who phoned his office to understand that he did not have the authority to do anything to free the prisoners there.
Both Johnson and DeWine said they were talking to others to make sure no additional prisoners were entering the Elkton prison at this time.
Mayle said 39 inmates had been identified as possible candidates for confinement at home according to Barr’s directions. Anyone who meets the criteria will be placed in quarantine for 14 days and, if there are no symptoms after that period, will be sent home. In addition, 21 other detainees have been identified as meeting the criteria for release to a halfway house or full release from the rest of their sentences.
On Monday, 80 inmates were in isolation and 16 newcomers remained in quarantine as a precaution.
Mayle also delivered CBS News based on smuggled cellphone videos taken by a prisoner in prison. Prisoners, who can be shown wearing masks, say people “Dying left and right” in prison. “They really left us here to die,” she says.
Mayle said everything in the video was wrong, starting with the alleged convicts died in prison. “Nobody died here. Every prisoner who has died is in the hospital, “ she says,
The prisoner referred to a tent set up on an outdoor basketball court, claiming the tent was set up as a mortuary. Mayle said the tent was set up as an emergency isolation facility but the government decided to use the visiting area. The tent remained in place, and Mayle said the Ohio National Guard medical unit who arrived to help at the prison might consider turning it into an emergency hospital.
Federal prison is not the only place of concern in Ohio. There are five inmates who are reported to have positive test results at Marion State Penitentiary and Pickaway Corrections Agency, according to DeWine. He also spoke on Monday about guards at the Marion facility as well. DeWine said his office was looking for ways to free some violators without violence at state facilities. He stressed it was important to balance the safety of prison inmates and staff with the safety of the community.
Across the state, the number of corona viruses rose to 4,450 confirmed cases and the number of deaths increased by 23 to 142. Acton reported that there were 48,000 tests conducted throughout the state. He also reported that more than 300 people were known to have recovered from a number of people discharged from the hospital, although he acknowledged that the numbers released were incomplete. Those who were hospitalized for a total of 1,214 corona viruses with 371 were treated in the ICU, although the number of cases and hospitalizations were accumulative and did not include removing from the number of those who had recovered or died from the disease.
The number of Columbiana County rose by 11 cases to 53. Of these, 33 were hospitalized, according to the Ohio Department of Health. Five people were killed, including three federal prisoners – Frank McCoy, Margarito Garcia-Fragoso and Woodrow Taylor. Two have confirmed cases before they died. Taylor’s test now also confirms that he died of COVID-19.
Tom Giambroni contributed to this story.