MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Corrections officers and inmate families are asking questions after a large COVID-19 outbreak at Stillwater prison turned deadly. An inmate who was died at the prison on Sunday.

The Department of Corrections said he had an extensive medical history. He tested positive for COVID-19 about two weeks ago, but some families and workers say the prison didn’t do enough to prevent the rampant infection rate inside.

More than half of the men incarcerated at Stillwater Prison have tested positive for COVID-19. The numbers have jumped by more than 100 in a week to 750 inmates. The number of staff infected has more than doubled in a week to 140.

A corrections officer who said he would be fired for using his name told WCCO, “Once the prison started noticing the spread in late September, they took no precautions.”

There are reports of moving men in and out of areas and mixing negative COVID-19 inmates with those who tested positive.

“He had been let out in population to shower among people who had received those positive results that he had seen himself,” Raquel Marentez said.

Marentez has two sons incarcerated at Stillwater. Both of her boys now have COVID, her youngest with a fever that he said hit 105 degrees days ago.

“I think at this point it’s gotten so far away from them and they have such a large spread there, I think my son also thinks they are just like let everybody get it and get it over with,” she said.

Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell says they are in daily contact with the Department of Health to pinpoint the problem. He believes initial separation didn’t contain the virus as they hoped and with community spread so high he says in a way it was too late.

“The strategy for the DOC is nothing to do with herd immunity. The risk around herd immunity as an approach to managing COVID is reckless and irresponsible,” Schnell said.

Stillwater Prison did notice a change in COVID spread in September when the facility turned its heat on. They have since made air flow changes to the prison.

They’re also working with environmental health experts to look into possible changes to the heating system.

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Liz Collin

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