The Tennessee Department of Correction is launching another round of mass testing after more than 1,100 people tested positive at a private prison this week.
Not every prisoner will be swabbed. State officials say they’ll focus on anyone who contact tracers think might have come into contact with the virus, plus those who have left the facility for a work assignment or doctor’s appointment.
Gov. Bill Lee said Thursday that officials are working on a statewide protocol to better detect cases and prevent further outbreaks in prisons.
“Across the country, there have been enormous outbreaks in prisons. It’s a real challenge, because of the congregate living and … the rapid nature with which the virus spreads in prisons,” Lee said. “I feel good about our process. It’s very unfortunate what happens in prison settings. But we’re doing what we can to mitigate that.”
Tennessee was the first state to test all prisoners for COVID-19 back in April, amid mounting concerns about undetected cases. Past rounds of mass testing have uncovered large-scale outbreaks, including the most recent hot spot at South Central Correctional Facility.
More than 4,500 state prisoners have tested positive for the virus since the start of the pandemic and 14 have died. About 80% of cases and more than half of deaths have occurred at private facilities managed by Brentwood-based CoreCivic, though the company houses just over one-third of state prisoners.
Lee says his office will “watch data and determine steps forward” when asked if the state plans to investigate CoreCivic’s role in the outbreaks or if their contract could be in jeopardy.
“My concern is just that we — whether it’s a CoreCivic facility or the state facility — that we approach this in the way that’s going to best mitigate spread,” he said.
Lee added that the state’s new COVID-19 liability law would not protect CoreCivic or any other private company from a coronavirus-related lawsuit if it were found to have committed “gross negligence.”
“It protects businesses, it protects institutions, it protects livelihoods,” Lee said. “But it also makes sure that bad actors are held responsible.
- Bledsoe County Correctional Complex: 3 active cases; 614 recovered; 1 death
- Morgan County Correctional Complex: 0 active cases; 13 recovered; 0 deaths
- Northeast Correctional Complex: 7 active cases; 18 recovered; 0 deaths
- Lois M. DeBerry Special Needs Facility: 4 active cases; 80 recovered; 4 deaths
- Riverbend Maximum Security Institution: 2 active cases; 16 recovered; 0 deaths
- Debra K. Johnson Rehabilitation Center: 3 active cases; 17 recovered; 1 death
- Turney Center Industrial Complex: 0 active cases; 45 recovered; 0 deaths
- Mark Luttrell Transition Center: 0 active cases; 54 recovered; 0 deaths
- Northwest Correctional Center: 0 active cases; 805 recovered; 0 deaths
- West Tennessee State Penitentiary: 0 active cases; 7 recovered; 0 deaths
- Women’s Therapeutic Residential Center: 28 active cases; 39 recovered; 0 deaths
- Hardeman County Correctional Facility: 6 active cases; 171 recovered; 0 deaths
- South Central Correctional Facility: 1,144 active cases; 65 recovered; 3 deaths
- Trousdale Turner Correctional Center: 0 active cases; 1,379 recovered; 3 deaths
- Whiteville Correctional Facility: 0 active cases; 42 recovered; 2 deaths
Samantha Max is a Report for America corps member.