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Prison tallies 33 new COVID cases among inmates, staff
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Prison tallies 33 new COVID cases among inmates, staff

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Housing at Montana State Prison

A view of an exercise area in low-side housing at the Montana State Prison. 

The Montana State Prison tallied 33 new COVID-19 cases among inmates and staff, the Montana Department of Corrections confirmed late Tuesday.

Nineteen staff and 14 inmates made up the burst at the men's prison in Powell County as of Tuesday, according to a department spokesperson. The breach comes after a relatively stable summer, with a single-digit increase in cases at the 1,600-bed facility since May. One inmate who contracted the virus in August was hospitalized but recovered.

Outside the facility outside Deer Lodge, the highly contagious delta variant has once again put hospitals into a tailspin, with a largely unvaccinated population sick with COVID-19 crowding into intensive care units. On Monday Providence St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula posted a photo of emergency room beds set up in the ambulance bay to triage the incoming ill. Billings Clinic reported their ICU at 150% capacity, according to the Billings Gazette.

Department of Corrections spokesperson Carolynn Bright said late Tuesday infected inmates are isolated and staff have been told to go home and isolate, regardless of vaccine status.

The vaccination rate among inmates at the state prison remains at 60%, although that figure does fluctuate as new inmates arrive at the facility and other inmates leave, Bright said Wednesday. Inmates are not required to share their vaccine status upon arriving at the prison, she added. The DOC Clinical Services Division provides inmates with a vaccine upon request.

The Department of Corrections does not know the vaccination rate among its employees and employees are not required to share their vaccination status with the department, Bright said. A new law passed earlier this year also prevents employers from requiring vaccinations or making employees disclose their status.

Prison employees are encouraged to self-screen for COVID symptoms every day before their shifts and all visitors — volunteers, family and friends of inmates — are screened before entering the prison, Bright said. Inmates are also screened before leaving county jails or other prison facilities, and screened again upon arriving at the state prison.

"These processes are enforced for all individuals no matter their vaccination status," she said. 

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