The coronavirus is spreading again in Tennessee prisons, with COVID-19 cases among incarcerated people and staff rising across the state. 

The virus had largely receded from the state’s prisons after an initial wave of COVID-19 outbreaks that saw thousands of incarcerated people contract the illness and put two state prisons among the worst hot spots in the country. That respite may now be over. 

As of Aug. 25, 115 incarcerated people at seven prisons across the state had tested positive for COVID-19, with 338 inmates still awaiting test results. The worst of the outbreaks is at Lois M. DeBerry Special Needs Facility in Nashville, where 39 prisoners have tested positive and three have died in the past month. The outbreak at DeBerry is particularly alarming, as the facility is reserved for people with serious and long-term medical problems or mental health issues. 

There are also 14 confirmed cases among the incarcerated population at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution — which has largely been on lockdown since Aug. 12 — and six more at Debra K. Johnson Rehabilitation Center (formerly known as the Tennessee Prison for Women). Cases are also on the rise again at Bledsoe County Correctional Complex in East Tennessee, where 27 prisoners had tested positive as of Wednesday. 

There are also more than 100 prison staff members who are out of work after testing positive for the illness. 

Asked about the protocol in place to handle infections among prisoners, Tennessee Department of Correction spokesperson Dorinda Carter tells the Scene via email that incarcerated people who test positive for COVID-19 are “placed in an isolation unit for 14 days and assessed twice daily by medical staff for temperature and any additional symptoms. At the end of 14 days, isolation patients are assessed once daily for Covid 19 symptoms. After 7 days of observation, they are returned to their housing assignment.” 

Carter also says prison officials are identifying via contact tracing people who have come into contact with an infected person, and placing those people in a two-week quarantine as well. 


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