COVID-19 Cases up in Columbiana County, Prison

LISBON, OHIO — The number of people in Columbiana County who tested positive for COVID-19 rose again Tuesday, including among inmates in the Federal Correctional Institution in Elkton.

The Columbiana County General Health District reported 60 positive cases of COVID-19 Tuesday, up from Monday’s count of 52 cases. The Ohio Department of Health was reporting 59 cases in the county as of Monday afternoon as well as 36 hospitalizations. The death toll from coronavirus in the county stands at five.

While Gov. Mike DeWine called Monday for the release of more than 165 inmates from Ohio prisons because of the crisis, the federal facility in Elkton was reporting higher numbers of COVID-19 cases among inmates.

According to Joseph Mayle, president of the Law Enforcement Officers Union at FCI Elkton, 37 inmates were hospitalized as of Tuesday with COVID-19 or symptoms, with nine of whom on ventilators. That number is up over 28 hospitalized inmates on Monday.

Mayle says 17 inmates are currently quarantined, compared to 16 on Monday, with 71 in isolation, compared to 80 on the previous day. Three inmates have died from COVID-19, the disease spread by the coronavirus.

Late Tuesday evening, Mayle confirmed the fourth staff member to test positive for the virus. As of 9 p.m. yesterday, the Federal Bureau of Prison’s website showed 10 inmates and three staff members testing positive.

Asked about the discrepancy between his statistics and those of the BOP, Mayle said, “I don’t care what the Board of Prisons is giving out. The numbers I’m giving you are active numbers. The fact is we have 71 inmates in isolation and 37 in the hospital with coronavirus-like symptoms. They haven’t been tested, but they’re being treated. The (BOP) won’t report those as ‘tested.’ Only the ones tested and verified will be reported.”

Mayle says the number of positive staff members he reported was provided by the county health district.

“We have no tracking for staff. An employer is not permitted to ask why an employee is off sick. We have many staff members sick, but some haven’t gone to the hospital or been tested,” he said.

He says most of the prison’s employees do not live in Columbiana County so the health department would have to contact hospitals to ask if any FCI Elkton employees had tested positive there to provide him with those cases.

Some inmates who were hospitalized and treated have returned to the prison, Mayle confirmed.

Though some inmates at the Elkton facility may potentially be eligible for release to home confinement or early release of their sentence, as has been urged for federal prisons by U.S. Attorney General William Barr, Mayle said he does not necessarily favor that idea.

While commending the attorney general and governor for their efforts, Mayle said that, as a corrections officer, he believes it only endangers the public to release the inmates, because they might be re-exposed in the period between being quarantined and actually leaving the prison.

“I just don’t understand the rush to put inmates out on the streets. We can quarantine them for 14 days, however, they might not have symptoms (if re-exposed),” he said. “Leave them where they’re at rather than expose the outside community.”

Mayle says things seem to be going smoothly with the National Guard having arrived at the facility to assist with medical matters, helping care for inmates.

“Our staff is exhausted,” he said.

He was asked to respond to skeptics who have expressed doubt about his previous comment that a video made by inmates on a contraband phone was “staged.”

In the video, an inmate wearing a hospital mask said inmates were being left to die and bodies were being kept in a tent he showed on the basketball court. In one scene, he pulled a blanket from another inmate lying in bed who seemed to be having difficulty breathing.

Mayle says, “I had no reason to lie. The management and union are doing everything they can here for the health and safety of the inmates and the staff. None of those (inmates) in the video had symptoms or were sick.”

He had said previously the inmates had tested negative for the virus, that the tent was not used for storing bodies, with none of the three inmate deaths occurring at the facility but in area hospitals.

Pictured: Federal Correction Institution Elkton (Source: Federal Bureau of Prisons)

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