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Officials: Corrections officer at Marion Correctional Institution dies from COVID-19

DeWine said Dawson did have underlying health conditions.
Marion Correctional Institution

COLUMBUS, Ohio - A corrections officer at the Marion Correctional Institution has died from the coronavirus, according to Gov. Mike DeWine.

During his daily briefing on Wednesday, DeWine announced 55-year-old John Dawson tested positive for COVID-19 on March 30.

Dawson had worked at the facility since 1996. He worked in the control center handing out equipment to staff.

DeWine said Dawson did have underlying health conditions.

OSCEA/AFSCME Local 11 spokeswoman Sally Meckling told 10 Investigates by phone Wednesday that the union just learned a couple of hours ago about the death of Dawson.

Dawson, according to Meckling, was one of 26 staffers at Marion Correctional Institution to become infected from COVID-19.

10 Investigates spoke to Chris Mabe, the OSCEA local union president, which represents corrections officers across Ohio.

He who told us that John Dawson was a good officer and an asset to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

Mabe also criticized DRC’s response to the coronavirus outbreak saying officers didn’t have proper personal protective equipment and that assignments have been changed.

10 Investigates reached out to DRC for a response.

We received a lengthy statement that pointed out several measures that the department said it has taken but did not answer our direct questions:

"DRC was notified today of the tragic passing of Correction Officer John Dawson from the Marion Correctional. Officer Dawson’s death was a result of complications associated with COVID-19. Officer Dawson was part of our DRC family for 24 years. Our hearts and deepest sympathies go out to his family and loved ones during this incredibly difficult time.

Our continued prayers and gratitude are with all of our 12,000 correctional employees who are working every day in our prisons and communities. The work they are doing is important, and their commitment during these challenging times is to be commended.

DRC continues to work closely with the Ohio Department of Health in implementing operational changes as we address the challenges associated with COVID-19. The Director communicates daily with the wardens across the state and emphasizes the importance of social distancing when it is possible in a correctional setting.

Here is an extensive list of some of the steps DRC has taken in response to COVID:

  • DRC began preparing for the potential impact of COVID-19 earlier this year. This included table-top exercises and frequent discussions with the Ohio Department of Health. We also began to update our pandemic plans to include specifics about COVID-19.
  • Prior to COVID-19, as part of our normal infectious disease control efforts, we routinely offer annual influenza vaccines to all offenders in our prison who wanted one, and especially targeted our at-risk and chronic care caseloads.
  • We continue to work collaboratively with the Ohio Department of Health to coordinate all our responses to COVID-19 implementing healthcare best practices and evidence- based methods of suppression for an infectious disease in a correctional setting.
  • We are also coordinating and regularly communicating with Ohio’s Emergency Operations Center.
  • Director Chambers-Smith is communicating daily with Wardens and Adult Parole Authority Regional Directors.
  • We have issued numerous communications to our staff and inmates, including education about COVID-19 and reminders to engage in aggressive hand-washing and social distancing where possible. We have used emails, posters, and videos along with encouraging local leaders to frequently interact with staff and offenders.
  • The prisons have sanitation crews who frequently disinfect common surfaces with a chemical effective against COVID-19 in line with public health recommendations.
  • We are using technology and other methods to reduce staff and offender gatherings including using tele-conferencing for our new officer training.
  • All non-essential staff training has been suspended.
  • We publish key metrics about the impact of COVID-19 daily on our website at www.drc.ohio.gov. This site has information on how many incarcerated individuals are being tested, how many positive tests have been returned, and information about offenders in quarantine and isolation.
  • A commodities team was established to conduct regular surveys of available supplies, identify potential needs, and develop methods of accessing and sharing resources.
  • We implemented a text messaging system for staff to be able to easily check in with their loved ones while they are at work as cell phones are not permitted within the facilities.
  • The Director has approved policy variances to accommodate operational needs, for example allowing the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizer in a safe and effective manner.
  • A family phone number and email address have been established and published to help answer questions about the impact COVID-19 is having on our operations. Individuals can email the DRC at drc.covid19@odrc.state.oh.us or call 614-728-1142.
  • We have implemented COVID-19 specific health screening for all inmates entering our prisons including reception and those returning from court hearings or other essential transports.
  • The electronic health record has been updated to include COVID-19 information to help with data analysis.
  • Volunteer activities and visiting have been suspended. Engaging with loved ones is important and the Director has worked to expand the opportunities over the past year. We expanded alternative means for incarcerated individuals to communicate with their loved ones during this time. This includes one free video visit per week and two free phone calls per week (free calls are extended through April 30 and will be reevaluated at that time). Inmates also have access to eight free emails per month. In person visiting will be reestablished as soon as it is safe to do so.
  • Only staff and mission critical contractors (construction, medical, food service, etc.) are permitted into the facilities. Health screenings are in place for staff and contractors who are entering the facilities/offices. We have made arrangements to allow staff to work from home when it is operationally feasible.
  • Staff and the incarcerated population are permitted to wear protective masks.
  • We have suspended travel for all state employees to only tasks that are mission critical.
  • The Director issued an executive order to county jails regarding the screening of inmates before being transferred to our reception centers. If symptomatic inmates arrive, the DRC does not accept them and they are returned to the jail along with all others transported with them. We also screen our inmates leaving prisons as well.
  • All inmates released from prison receive an information packet on COVID-19 prepared by our healthcare staff.
  • Reception inmates will be housed in the same area by date of arrival for a minimum of 5 weeks to monitor them for any symptoms which may emerge. This is designed to lessen the chances new admissions could infect the General Population.
  • Inmate work assignments which are not on state property have been suspended.
  • Inmate medical co-pays are being waived for individuals who are exhibiting flu-like symptoms in order to encourage offenders to self-report illness.
  • The Ohio Penal Industries is manufacturing personal protective equipment such as protective gowns, masks, face shields and hand sanitizer.
  • Each prison has been authorized to make cloth masks if they have local supplies available and with any additional fabric they can procure. These will be made available to inmates and staff if there is enough supply locally.
  • On March 29, 2020, after consulting with the Ohio Department of Health, the Director ordered all prisons with dormitory style housing to implement “head to toe” sleeping arrangements to maximize social distancing in a correctional environment.
  • Lexis Nexus is being made available on inmate tablets at 15 locations.
  • Implementing brunch to improve social distancing at some locations."