JOHNSON COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL) — A state prison in Northeast Tennessee is dealing with two new COVID-19 related inmate deaths.
The Tennessee Department of Correction reported those new deaths at Northeast Correctional Complex (NECX), bringing the facility’s total to four Monday morning.
NECX has also had more than 200 inmates test positive for the virus with more than three dozen tests still pending.
News Channel 11’s Pheben Kassahun learned why this is happening and what health and prison officials are doing about it.
According to the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC), 2,090 tests have been administered at the Johnson County correctional facility. 222 inmates have tested positive (5 inmates are experiencing symptoms), 1,902 tested negative, 37 test results are pending and 113 inmates have recovered from the virus.
TDOC released this statement, pertaining to the new deaths:
“The Tennessee Department of Correction is committed to protecting the health, safety, and well-being of our staff, inmates, and communities. We have closely monitored COVID-19 developments throughout the pandemic and have adhered to all guidelines and recommendations from both the Tennessee Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control. TDOC has maintained a series of steps since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic to try to prevent the spread of the virus including non-invasive screenings, frequent cleaning and disinfection of high touch areas, and mandatory masks for staff and inmates. The department has been following established protocols for isolation of positive cases and quarantine for suspected cases. We began to see increases of cases inside our facilities after we saw increases in active cases in the community.
Data regarding COVID-19 testing of inmates and staff can be found on our website, www.tn.gov/correction The in-house population at Northeast Correctional Complex today is 1,487 offenders and approximately 500 staff. There are 222 active cases of COVID-19 among the offender population. The majority of cases, 217, have exhibited no symptoms.”Robert Reburn
East Tennessee Region Public Information Officer
Tennessee Department of Corrections
“If there’s a correlation of cases, it has to do with the staff,” Johnson County Mayor Kenneth “Mike” Taylor said. “Northeast Correctional Center might not directly affect the community, but indirectly, it could through the infecting of staff that then at that point would take it home or take it into the communities.”
According to the Tennessee Department of Health, Johnson County had 1,038 confirmed and probable cases, 1,101 positive cases, 6,592 negative cases, 290 active cases and a total of 744 inactive/recovered cases as of Sunday. There have also been five deaths.
Taylor believes the prison cases are spreading into the community.
“There’s been some contact tracing that have caused a number of students and staff to be quarantined. I think some of that, they have attributed to cases that were at the prison…at Northeast Correctional Center,” Taylor said.
As schools return to in-person learning this week, the county mayor says families should follow school guidelines.
Taylor said: “I think the schools have done a good job preparing the staff, preparing the teachers, and the kids likewise. The kids are wearing masks, the staff are all wearing masks and I think they’re doing a good job.”
TDOC also released the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases among staff, and as of last Wednesday, 122 have tested positive and 83 have recovered.