Elected Officials Weigh In on COVID-19 at Elkton Prison

LISBON, Ohio — With the National Guard now assisting medical personnel at the Federal Correction Institution Elkton, where cases of COVID-19 have broken out, it appears no new prisoners will be sent to the facility for the time being.

Three inmates from the facility died of the virus last week after being hospitalized, and as of Monday, a prison spokesman said 28 other inmates are currently hospitalized at local hospitals with COVID-19, the disease spread by the coronavirus. Three staff members have also tested positive, although it is unknown if they are hospitalized.

The Federal Board of Prisons website reported Monday night that eight Elkton inmates and one staff member have tested positive, also noting three inmate deaths and no staff member deaths.

Gov. Mike DeWine announced during his 2 p.m. briefing Monday he was honoring a request to send the National Guard into the prison, where nearly 2,500 inmates are housed.

During his address, DeWine said he had begun receiving calls Friday and Saturday about the COVID-19 outbreak at the Elkton facility. He sent a surgeon from the Ohio National Guard and consulted with Maj. Gen. John C. Harris Jr., adjutant general of Ohio’s National Guard and the Army Corps of Engineers.

“The Guard surgeon said there is no doubt that this prison needs help,” DeWine said, also saying Harris reported the prison’s medical staff is half what it should be and that two guards are needed to stand watch over each hospitalized inmate.

The governor says he called the head of the federal prison bureau Sunday night, asking that no further prisoner intakes take place at Elkton.

“I feel very, very strongly about this. When an outbreak takes place, it is not the time to introduce new inmates to the population,” DeWine said, although emphasizing he has no jurisdiction over a federal prison as with a state facility.

He noted, however, “It is located in Ohio, staffed by Ohioans, who are our fellow citizens and whose families live there and being transferred to local hospitals, and it is the right thing to do.”

In a tweet Monday, U.S. Sen. Rob Portman agreed, saying he had been in touch with DeWine’s office and the Bureau of Prisons about the coronavirus outbreak in Elkton.

“The governor and I agree that BOP should stop sending prisoners to this facility for now, and I’m pleased they have agreed,” Portman tweeted.

Also issuing a statement Monday was U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-6 Ohio, who said had also spoken with the governor, officials at the BOP, the warden at Elkton, the Ohio National Guard and local hospitals treating patients from the prison.

“We’ve got to protect the staff and inmates at Elkton from the COVID-19 outbreak, and right now that facility is like a Petri dish, a breeding ground for the virus,” Johnson said. “Staff members are coming home to their families and communities after their shifts, and inmates are in close proximity to each other with limited means to isolate or quarantine”

The congressman said hospitals in the region run the risk of being overwhelmed if the outbreak is not “stopped in its tracks,” adding, “These hospitals, some of them small, rural community hospitals, need to be ready in case there is a sudden outbreak in their own local communities, and they must have the capability and capacity to perform their regular duties.”

At the same time, Johnson said, “We have a moral responsibility to protect the health and safety of both staff and inmates … and that’s exactly what we are going to do.”

In addition to the National Guard being called out by the governor, Johnson said the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers is also lending a hand but did not elaborate on its duties. He agreed the BOP is actively involved in halting the influx of any additional prisoners to the facility.

“I’m monitoring this situation daily, but with this ‘all hands on deck’ approach, I expect we will begin to see some improvement there shortly,” Johnson said.

The congressman also noted that area hospitals have “pitched in” to make sure no single one of them is overwhelmed, sentiments that had also been voiced during the 2 p.m. briefing by Dr. Amy Acton, director of the Ohio Department of Health.

While Columbiana County health officials and prison officials have been closed-mouthed about exactly which area hospitals have been treating the inmates from Elkton, Acton gave a shout out during her comments to East Liverpool City Hospital, Salem Regional Medical Center and Trumbull Regional Medical Center for “responding on the front line” in treating the inmates.

“Those folks have performed admirably,” she said of the three medical facilities.

After bringing in regional medical facilities, they are all working collectively to balance patients, which Acton said is “balancing the stress on our health care system.”

“I’m proud and optimistic about how we’re responding,” Acton said, adding she is proud of those in the prison and everyone the situation there is affecting.

“Our hearts go out to you. We are thinking about you, and we will do everything to give you the very best care we have,” Acton pledged.

As of Monday night, the Ohio Department of Health was reporting Columbiana County had 53 total cases of COVID-19, with 33 hospitalizations and five deaths.

Lisa Solley contributed to this story

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

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