Dr. Lisa Piercey, Commissioner Tennessee Department of Health
By Jill Penley
Johnson County saw its largest increase in COVID-19 cases this week due to Tennessee’s launch of mass COVID-19 testing of all prison staff and inmates. According to the Tennessee Department of Corrections (TDOC), Northeast Correctional Complex’s 1,547 inmates and staff were tested last week. As a result, ten inmates tested positive, while there were no positive results in staff.
Statewide TDOC reports over 21,000 state inmates had been tested as of May 15, with 754 testing positive, the majority of which are housed at the Northwest Correctional Complex in Tiptonville near Memphis. “The good news is about 98 percent of them are completely asymptomatic,” said Tennessee Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey. “They’re well. They feel good.”
According to a press release from the governor’s office, TDOC facilities are practicing safety measures recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Tennessee Department of Health and has delivered more than 93,000 masks for staff, inmates, county jails, and healthcare workers.
“The Department of Correction maintains Emergency Operations Plans / Continuity of Operations Plans for a variety of emergency events,” said Robert Reburn, East Tennessee Region Public Information Officer, “and has implemented a series of these as this fluid situation unfolds.”
The TDOC also continues to conduct non-invasive screenings of everyone entering facilities for symptoms such as fever (over 100.4F) and difficulty breathing prior to entry to maximize prevention efforts. Facilities are evaluating all inmates upon intake and returns from court, medical, and all outside work locations. Additionally, medical co-pays for inmates are being waived at this time. Out of an abundance of caution to protect what is considered a “vulnerable population,” the TDOC decided to suspend visitation until further notice; however, this decision is being re-evaluated daily and based on current updates of the COVID-19 impact in Tennessee.
They also utilize a schedule to ensure cleaning and disinfection of high touch areas, such as shared workspaces, toilet seats, light switches, door handles, handrails, phones, elevator buttons, handheld radios, security keys/chits, ID badges, and pens/pencils, multiple times per day.
Although visitation remains suspended, the Tennessee Department of Correction launched a 24-hour COVID-19 Information Line (1-866-858-0380) for family members of incarcerated individuals. The Information Line is reportedly answered by a live analyst who can respond to questions related to COVID-19 testing updates, TDOC’s response to the virus, and the protective measures that have been taken as this fluid situation continues to unfold. Additionally, in early May, CoreCivic launched a 24-hour COVID-19 Information Hotline (615-263-3200) for family members of incarcerated individuals. It also is monitored daily by a live operator.