Six new cases of COVID-19 were identified among inmates in Montana State Prison’s intake/quarantine unit last week. In addition, prison staff delivered 300 doses of COVID-19 vaccines to inmates this week, bringing the total number of offenders who are fully vaccinated to 284 and the number who have received their first doses to 394.
“New cases at our facilities are not unexpected; after all, MSP is Montana’s largest prison and routinely receives inmates from all over the state,” said Director Brian Gootkin. “The department took a proactive approach to the virus and we have had precautions in place at our secure facilities since the beginning of 2020. Also, our clinical staff have been working hard to vaccinate our offenders who are willing to receive the vaccination.”
COVID-19 testing and vaccination at DOC facilities are voluntary. To date, 674 offenders out of a population of 1,386, have declined the vaccine.
“The vaccination process has been running smoothly,” said Connie Winner, administrator of the department’s Clinical Services Division. “We have provided informational materials to inmates regarding the benefits of receiving the vaccine and are ready to get shots in the arms of those who want to receive them as quickly as we can.”
The cases of COVID-19 were identified in MSP’s Martz Diagnostic Intake Unit Friday. While the offenders were asymptomatic when screened on arrival at the facility, four of them later began to demonstrate symptoms and tested positive for the virus. Testing conducted in the unit identified a total of six positive cases.
All offenders are screened upon arrival at the facility and then placed in quarantine for 14 days, as is the case with the inmates who tested positive. In addition, offenders are offered COVID-19 testing while at the intake unit. The department continues to conduct regular sentinel testing at its facilities and testing of symptomatic individuals.
Seven staff members also tested positive for the virus. Staff members are screened every day when they come to work and are provided with appropriate personal protective equipment.
As part of its effort to mitigate the risk of the virus in its facilities, the department’s clinical staff began vaccinating offenders who were eligible in Phase 1B of the state’s COVID-19 vaccination plan in February. In March, they progressed to vaccinating all offenders who qualified to be immunized in Phase 1B+. At this time, vaccinations are available to all inmates who want to receive the vaccine as doses become available.