LEAKESVILLE, Miss. (WHLT) – The Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) announced its joining forces with the Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) to ramp up COVID-19 testing.

Starting with testing the day before Thanksgiving, MDOC administered Rapid Antigen tests to 505 inmates at South Mississippi Correctional Institution near Leakesville, of which 179 tested positive.  Five days later, MSDH retested inmates in the same SMCI sector, identifying 139 more positive cases.  Health officials say all 318 inmates were asymptomatic, with only one hospitalized for observation. Another 41 over several day tested positive, all asymptomatic.

The 14-day CDC-mandated quarantine for the recovered 188 inmates ended December 9, 2020. Quarantine for the remaining 162 will be lifted next week. Adhering to official guidelines, prison officials are returning recovered inmates to their former units in phases.

SMCI Superintendent Andrew Mills said an investigation revealed that the virus entered Delta-1 unit by an inmate coming from the prison infirmary. 

“But it spread,” Mills said, “from an infirmary worker, from maintenance personnel, canteen workers, and a couple of corrections officers who showed no symptoms. It is hard to battle something you cannot see.”

The department is taking the following steps:

1.      Using electrostatic sanitizing sprayers to spray down all surfaces in all buildings, cellblocks, kitchens and dining areas; 

2.      Installing hospital-type industrial ultraviolet sterilization lights;

3.      Using portable UV sterilizers and hand wand UV sterilizers;

4.      Installing air purifiers;

5.      Purchased and are installing walk-through sanitization stations that mist inmates and staff with a 75 percent alcohol solution per CDC guidelines;

6.      Keeping inmate movement to absolute minimum;

7.      Delayed family visitations until MDOC gets official clearance from the CDC and Mississippi Department of Health;

8.      Replacing uniforms, bedding, pillow cases, and mattresses as needed;

9.      Purchased and distributed 60,000 reusable masks to add to the 250,000 donated single-use paper masks;

10.  Enforcing hand sanitizing;

11.  Enforcing social distancing;

12.  Enforcing masks;

13.  Requiring every corrections officer, administration staffer, medical worker, maintenance crewperson, canteen worker, and vendor to screen for temperature and symptoms every time they enter the prison; and,

14.  Trying to re-open some prisons to allow for more distancing.