COLUMBUS — Members of the National Guard are being trained to help at a second Ohio prison as coronavirus infections among correctional workers continue to spread, the state prisons agency said Friday.
The 50 or so guard members will assist with “mission critical functions” at Marion Correctional Facility, said JoEllen Smith, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. The State Highway Patrol is also helping guard the prison’s perimeter, Smith said.
The latest figures show 95 staffers at the Marion prison have tested positive for the virus, more than a quarter of the total staff of about 350. At Pickaway Correctional Facility, where some members of the Ohio National Guard already were sent to supplement medical staffing, 48 of about 340 employees had positive tests.
In Marion, 217 inmates tested positive, along with 149 at Pickaway, according to Department of Rehabilitation and Correction data. A total of 184 staff members statewide have tested positive, along with 489 inmates.
Four prisoners at Pickaway and one guard at Marion have died of COVID-19.
Comprehensive testing underway at three prisons, including Marion, is important given that many people have COVID-19 but don’t realize it, Gov. Mike DeWine said Friday.
For example, testing at one Marion prison dorm found that of 152 inmates, 39% tested positive without showing symptoms.
“We are monitoring staffing at all institutions on a daily basis and direct internal staffing resources to different prisons when needed,” Smith said in an email.
The head of the corrections officers union at the Allen Oakwood Correctional Institute said morale is “in the toilet.” Guards have complained that safety concerns are being ignored and that they have been denied emergency stipend pay, Shawn Gruber told The Lima News.
Guards at Marion and elsewhere are being directed to work 12- and 16-hour shifts to compensate for the staff shortages, Christopher Mabe, president of the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, said Friday.
Mabe himself is under quarantine with mild coronavirus symptoms after his wife, a guard at Lorain Correctional Institution, tested positive for the virus, the union said Friday.
The union also announced it ordered 30,000 N95 masks for prison employees at a cost of $200,000.
In another prison-related development, the Ohio Supreme Court on Thursday rejected a request by inmate Derek Lichtenwalter to be released early out of fears of contracting COVID-19.
Lichtenwalter said he was willing to return to prison once the pandemic passed. The court granted the state’s request to throw out the lawsuit, arguing the prisoner had failed to make a case.
In other coronavirus-related developments Friday:
DeWine said businesses opening on May 1 and afterward must continue to provide ample space for employees and customers, clean surfaces, and should continue to require employees who can work from home to do so.
The goal is simple, DeWine said: Companies must protect employees, and retail businesses must protect customers.
Otherwise, companies won’t attract employees who distrust a workplace’s health measures, and customers won’t shop at stores “if you think that you’re not safe there,” the governor said.
The Republican governor said he agreed with President Donald Trump’s plan for reopening the states, but promised his plan would be “by Ohioans and for Ohioans.”
Health Director Dr. Amy Acton said that in contrast to the abrupt stay-at-home orders last month, the reopening decisions come May 1 will be more nuanced.
For example, the state may allow certain types of health procedures, such as mammograms, that can be done safely while practicing social distancing, but not others.
“And we won’t rush, because it would be very dangerous for us to rush,” Acton said.
Ohio’s unemployment rate jumped to 5.5% in March, up from 4.1% in February, which was also the rate in March 2019. Employment dropped by almost 40,000 in March, according to the Department of Job and Family Services.
The owner of a northern Ohio racetrack that hosts dozens of events each year, including the National Hot Rod Association series, vowed to open this summer. “I’m not asking. I’m opening,” said Summit Motorsports Park owner Bill Bader Jr.
The first 300 cases of a planned 100,000 servings of seafood arrived Friday at Cincinnati’s Freestore Foodbank, donated by SeaPak Shrimp and Seafood Co. and Budweiser for COVID-19 relief help. The Foodbank serves people in 20 counties in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana. Foodbanks in Ohio and nationwide are seeing unprecedented visits as unemployment hits record highs.
To date, Ohio has confirmed more than 9,100 cases and 418 deaths, according to new federal guidelines that allow cases and deaths considered “probable” COVID-19 infections without a positive test.
The pandemic has caused more than 2,400 hospitalizations in Ohio, with more than 700 people needing treatment in intensive care units.
Health care workers account for 20% of the overall cases in the state. Nursing homes have reported more than 800 cases, or about one in 10.
DeWine also said he plans to keep applying pressure on the Food and Drug Administration to address the rationing of the reagent that is necessary to produce tests. The capacity is there, he said, but can’t be used to its fullest without that vital ingredient.
For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up in a couple of weeks. Older adults and people with existing health problems are at higher risk of more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.