An outbreak of COVID-19 cases at the Carroll-Montgomery County Regional Correctional Facility in Vaiden may be why Carroll County’s number of confirmed cases has surged by almost 30%.

The Mississippi State Department of Health reported Thursday that Carroll County’s confirmed cases of COVID-19 had risen to 449, 103 higher than the 346 cases reported Wednesday.  

Ken Strachan, Carroll County’s emergency management director, and Brandon Smith, warden of the correctional facility in Vaiden, said Thursday that the surge in cases was due to an outbreak at the Vaiden correctional facility.

Tammy Yates, a media representative for the state Health Department, said by email Thursday that according to the Health Department’s Office of Epidemiology, the increased case count “is due to an identified outbreak in a congregate setting.”

Smith said that on Sept. 9 and 10 the correctional facility got 56 new inmates from the Mississippi Department of Corrections. Prior to those dates, Smith said, there were no known cases of COVID-19 that month at the all-men’s facility.

About 10 to 12 days after the new inmates’ arrivals, Smith said a mixture of newly moved-in inmates and old inmates started exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19.

On Oct. 1, Smith said he had workers from the state Health Department test all of the 260 inmates as well as 27 staff members. The correctional facility’s full capacity is 280 inmates, and there are around 38 staff members, Smith said.

On Oct. 6, test results revealed that 113 inmates had COVID-19 while the remaining 147 inmates tested negative, Smith said.

None of the 27 staff members who were tested had COVID-19, Smith said. He noted that staff members had tested positive for the coronavirus in the past.

Strachan speculated that the discrepancy in totals from the Health Department and the facility might reflect a lag in public reporting of results.

The correctional facility has five separate zones. Each has 60 beds in an open, dorm-style setting, Smith said.

Following the test results, all of the inmates who tested positive were quarantined together in two zones of the facility while the inmates who tested negative were split into the remaining three zones.

After 14 days from testing,  inmates will continue quarantine for an additional week before they move back to their regular zones, Smith said.

So far during the quarantine,  only one inmate has had to be hospitalized from a COVID-19-related illness, Smith said. Otherwise, “most inmates’ conditions are pretty mild,” he said.

Since the start of the pandemic, Smith said, “we’ve been doing all we know to do” in terms of mitigating the spread of the coronavirus. Measures include sanitizing public areas of the facility as well as slashing guest visits and recreational programs for inmates. Food now is delivered to inmates in their pods.

Inmates are not required to wear masks but are strongly encouraged to do so, Smith said. All of the facility’s staff do wear masks.

Smith said that they “feel like we’re on the back end” of the outbreak. He also commended the facility’s staff for working while knowing the risk of contracting COVID-19.

• Contact Gerard Edic at 581-7239 or gedic@gwcommonwealth.com.

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