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More than 9,500 Illinois inmates have contracted COVID, here’s how IDOC is working to stop the spread

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ILLINOIS (WREX) -- 9,561 inmates in Illinois have tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic started, according to state data from the Illinois Department of Corrections. Some facilities have seen half of their populations test positive for the virus.

State data shows 9,561 inmates tested positive since the pandemic began, data obtained by 13 WREX through a Freedom of Information Act request shows that as of December 18, Illinois had 29,550 inmates in the state. Those numbers show roughly 31% of inmates have tested positive since the pandemic started, though it is important to note some could have been released early or released on parole since the start of the pandemic.

"For nearly ten months, the Department’s top medical and operations personnel have been stationed at our statewide command center resolutely working to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 within our facilities," said Illinois Department of Corrections Public Information Officer Lindsey Hess. in a statement to 13 WREX. "Correctional centers are congregate facilities which present unique infection control challenges. To address those challenges, we work closely with the Illinois Department of Public Health, infectious disease consultants, and correctional agencies across the country to ensure best practices."

IDOC has administered more than 112,000 tests to inmates since the pandemic started, according to state data. IDOC updates its COVID-19 metrics each day here.

In the Dixon Correctional Center, the only IDOC facility in the Stateline, 573 inmates have tested positive. As of December 18, 2020, Dixon housed 1,849 inmates. Currently, only eight inmates have the virus, the rest have recovered, according to state data. 244 of Dixon's 644 staff members tested positive, only six currently have the virus.

Farther downstate, Danville and Lawrence Correctional Centers have the highest number of total cases. In Danville 808 inmates tested positive, roughly 52% of its 1,556 inmates. 908 inmates at Lawrence tested positive, 51% of its population. Danville has 147 active cases and Lawrence has 170, respectively.

Prison rights advocates have slammed IDOC's handling of the virus, some calling it "an absolute failure."

To stop the spread, IDOC suspended visitation at its facilities on March 14, two days later it started using its Statewide Incident Command Center and FEMA's National Incident Management System. PPE is provided to staff statewide and inmates receive KN-95 masks weekly. Hand sanitizer, soap and cleaning supplies are also available to inmates and staff. IDOC is also working with the Governor's Office and Prisoner Review Board to thoroughly review and potentially release inmates who are eligible for early release.

"IDOC staff continue to persevere during these uncertain, challenging times. The Department is providing ongoing education addressing the threat of COVID-19 and procedures for mitigating infection spread at work and in the community," Hess added in the statement. "Each facility has a designated safety officer who works to ensure all staff are wearing PPE appropriately and practicing social distancing."

The number of cases could drop drastically in the next few weeks as Illinois moves to phase 1B of its vaccine distribution. Corrections Officers and inmates are both included in phase 1B. Governor JB Pritzker announced Monday that some counties are already moving to that next phase and the entire state could soon.

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James Stratton

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