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1st inmate dies as Ohio prisoner, staff infections top 260

Twelve of 28 institutions are now under full quarantines, according to the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.
Ohio Department of Corrections

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The coronavirus has killed its first Ohio prison inmate, Gov. Mike DeWine said as the number of infections in state prisons topped 260 according to data issued Monday afternoon.

Twelve of 28 institutions are now under full quarantines, according to the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

The inmate at Pickaway Correctional Institution had a long-term chronic illness before dying, DeWine said. Among staff members, 119 have tested positive, the majority at Marion Correctional Institution, the prisons agency said.

One Marion prison guard died of COVID-19. Inmate infections hit 146, with most of those at the Pickaway prison. DeWine ordered up to 30 members of the Ohio National Guard to assist at the Pickaway health center, with a dozen prison medical employees currently out sick with COVID-19.

A quarantine “separates and restricts the movement of people who were exposed, or potentially exposed, to a contagious disease to see if they become sick,” the prisons agency said.

During the epidemic, the state is also limiting inmates to two meals a day, a hot brunch and an evening meal, to reduce movement in facilities and contact between individuals, The Lima News reported. The prison system also lowered commissary prices so inmates could afford more food.

DeWine has announced just over 200 inmates are being considered for early release, including pregnant prisoners and women with children with them behind bars. The American Civil Liberties Union on Monday called on DeWine to release thousands of inmates to minimize the spread of the virus.

On Friday, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf authorized the early release of as many as 1,800 inmates.

Kwanza Maxwell, of Columbus, said her father, David Watkins, is living in an open dorm situation at Noble Correctional Institution in southeastern Ohio, and eating side by side with other inmates. Watkins, 57, is a diabetic dependent on insulin, she said. Records show he's due for release in 2027 on a drug trafficking charge.

“He is not sentenced to death, therefore he does not deserve to die while serving his sentence,” Maxwell said during a news conference.

The state continues to review the cases of inmates who could be released, DeWine said.