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Outbreak reported at FD prison

44 cases reported after first inmate tested positive for COVID-19 Thursday

Fort Dodge Correctional Facility reported 39 cases of COVID-19 among inmates and another five among staff Monday, just five days after the facility’s first case was discovered Wednesday.

The new outbreak outnumbers all COVID-19 cases that were documented in Iowa’s entire prison system up until this week. Before this week, 35 Iowa inmates had tested positive, most of them residents of the Iowa Medical and Classification Center (Oakdale) in Coralville, where new inmates have been processed for intake during the pandemic.

Before Wednesday, three staff members had tested positive at the Fort Dodge facility. Iowa Department of Corrections statistics showed three staff members as recovered on Monday.

DOC Communications Director Cord Overton said that one positive inmate, a man in his 70s with preexisting conditions, had been hospitalized. The rest have been either asymptomatic or experienced mild symptoms.

“We are very hopeful that as we continue to discover more individuals that are carrying the virus, this pattern of no or mild symptoms continues,” Overton said.

After contact tracing, DOC authorities believe that the first inmate to contract COVID-19 was likely infected through exposure to an asymptomatic employee. In-person visitation at the prison has been suspended since the pandemic began. New inmates, intake of whom were suspended for about a month from April to May, are tested and quarantined thoroughly before being released into the general population.

Since the first confirmed positive case, 373 new tests were administered on 317 inmates and 56 staff members, surfacing another 41 cases. Over 100 tests are still pending, with most testing expected over the next several weeks.

All positive inmates have been placed in medical isolation, and all positive staff members are recovering at home. The prison will remain under a modified restricted movement status for the next several weeks to control the spread, Overton said.

Thanks to the pause in new admissions, he said enough space was saved to allow for mass quarantining, if necessary. Over the last year, the prison’s population peaked at 1,362 inmates. On Monday, its population was 1,102, about 60 under full capacity.

The Fort Dodge facility, the largest prison in Iowa, has tested 480 inmates since the pandemic began. Before mass testing began last week, that number was 163.

Though the DOC is not planning to halt new admissions into the prison system, they have suspended all movement to and from Fort Dodge, Overton said.

Early in June, an inmate transferred to Fort Dodge from the IMCC tested positive after twice testing negative and thought to have been recovered from his first positive COVID-19 test, after weeks in isolation.

Due to a variety of factors in testing, Overton previously said prison officials were not sure whether the inmate had been reinfected or whether the case was a false positive. Medical staff at the DOC advised the case may have been a “repositive,” which happens when a positive patient tests negative before testing positive again, weeks after initial infection.

That inmate was transported back to the Coralville facility and is not counted in Fort Dodge Correctional Facility’s COVID-19 statistics.

Staff at all Iowa prisons have been required to wear masks at all times for months. Inmates are advised, but usually not required, to wear their provided masks. Temperatures are randomly checked on inmates on a regular basis as staff follow precautions to ensure they aren’t bringing the virus into prisons.

Overton told The Messenger no particular emergency protocols have been initiated since the outbreak was identified.

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