A new round of mass testing at Tennessee prisons has uncovered small outbreaks at several state-run facilities. The Department of Correction says about 400 people who were swabbed last week have come back positive so far.
The latest outbreaks are happening at prisons that had mostly avoided the virus up to this point.
Before this week, the women’s prison in Nashville had reported fewer than 20 cases since the start of the pandemic. Now, more than 100 people have tested positive, and one woman has died.
A few other state prisons, including the West Tennessee State Penitentiary and Riverbend Maximum Security Institution, are now seeing their first minor outbreaks, with several dozen people testing positive.
But two of the largest correctional outbreaks have occurred at private facilities managed by Brentwood-based CoreCivic, including one hotspot where more than 1,100 people have the virus. In addition to the ongoing epidemic at South Central Correctional Facility, nearly 1,400 prisoners tested positive at the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center this spring.
The private company houses about a third of the state’s prisoners but accounts for more than half of its coronavirus cases and deaths.
The only facility has reported more coronavirus-related deaths than South Central and Trousdale Turner is the state-run Lois M. DeBerry Special Needs Facility, where four people have died. Just over 100 people have tested positive there, but because the Nashville facility houses some of the state’s sickest prisoners, its population is particularly vulnerable to the dangers of the virus.
As of Wednesday, the Department of Correction was still waiting on more than 700 test results, which could uncover even more cases. Since March, about 5,000 Tennessee prisoners have tested positive for the coronavirus and 15 have died.
Samantha Max is a Report for America corps member.