All inmates at the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center in Hartsville are getting tested for the coronavirus, after early rounds of testing uncovered 93 cases among the prison’s approximately 2,500 prisoners.
The state has been taking a “tiered approach” to testing within correctional facilities — first testing people who are exhibiting symptoms or may have been exposed to the virus, and then expanding screening if an outbreak is detected.
Trousdale Turner is the second prison to assess all of its inmates. Bledsoe County Correctional Complex, which is about the same size, also conducted mass testing earlier this month. Nearly 600 people have tested positive there, making the prison one of the largest hotspots of the virus in the state.
According to the latest numbers from the Tennessee Department of Correction, 756 inmates have tested positive so far at six different prisons (one of those prisons houses two facilities). The largest outbreaks are at Bledsoe County (583), Trousdale Turner (93), Turney Center Industrial Complex (40) and Northwest Correctional Complex (38).
Eight inmates were hospitalized, and five has since been released.
At the state’s 12 other prisons, officials have tested anywhere between zero and five inmates, with most results either coming back negative or still pending. A total of 3,808 Tennessee prisoners have been tested.
TDOC said in a statement that the “vast majority” of inmates who have tested positive are “asymptomic.” Reuters reported earlier this week that mass testing of prisoners in Arkansas, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia uncovered similar results, where 96% of 3,277 COVID-positive inmates were not showing symptoms.
Marc Stern, former medical director for the Washington State Department of Corrections, told Reuters that the results may provide insight into how the virus is spreading, even among those who don’t seem sick.
“It’s what makes the pandemic more difficult to manage,” he said. “There are a whole lot of people who are asymptomatic.”
But as positive cases have surged with increased testing at a select few correctional facilities, officials have continued to deny calls to screen all inmates statewide. Instead, they are leaving it up to inmates to report symptoms, until an outbreak is detected.
State Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey said at a recent press briefing that she was following the lead of other states, which are also taking a targeted approach to testing within prisons.
Mass testing at Trousdale Turner, which is managed by the private prison operator CoreCivic, begins today. The company will offer testing to all its employees starting tomorrow.