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As a new strain of coronavirus (COVID-19) swept through the world in 2020, preparedness plans, masking policies and more public policy changed just as quickly. WVXU has covered the pandemic's impact on the Tri-State from the very beginning, when on March 3, 2020, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine barred spectators from attending the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus over concerns about the virus, even though Ohio had yet to confirm a single case of COVID-19.

Ohio's COVID-19 Cases Top 11,000, Fueled By Mass Testing At Prisons

The Marion Correctional Institute, in a photo from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.
The Marion Correctional Institute, in a photo from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

There were 11,292 cases of COVID-19 cases as of Sunday – and nearly a quarter of those are either inmates or staff at Ohio prisons.

2,400 inmates and 244 prison workers have tested positive for coronavirus, as the state has instituted mass testing at three facilities. That's 23% of all COVID-19 cases in Ohio.

"PickawayCorrectionalInstitution,MarionCorrectionalInstitutionandtheFranklinMedicalCenterareundergoingmasstestingrightnowoftheirstaffandtheirinmates," saidOhio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections Director Annette Chambers-Smith.

She said the goal is to find out who’s carrying the disease into those prisons – since many are not showing symptoms.

“What wehopetobeabletodetermineishere’s thepercentageofpeoplethatare, theyarepositivefor COVID buttheydon'thaveanysymptoms. Andthenwe'dbeabletoseparatethemfromthepeoplewhodon'thaveCOVIDatall," Chambers-Smith said. "Andthat'swe'retheonlystateintheuniondoingthat.”

Marion County now leads the state in COVID-19 cases, and 73% of the Marion Correctional Institution has tested positive. Around a fifth of the inmates at Pickaway have tested positive.

As many as five inmates at Pickaway and a corrections worker at Marion have died.

The mass testing is also potentially driving up the gap between cases involving males and females on the state's website.

The number of cases in males and females was almost evenly split between the genders, but now 57% of the cases are males. The three prisons where testing is being done are all-male facilities.

The Marion Correctional Institution will also be getting some help from about 50 personnel from the Ohio National Guard, who have been deployed for "mission-critical functions". About 30 National Guard personnel are performing similar duties at the Pickaway Correctional Institution.

The head of the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association has called for the National Guard to help with security at all Ohio prisons. Chris Mabe is now in quarantine, after his wife - who works at the Lorain Correctional Institution - tested positive for COVID-19.

Copyright 2020 The Statehouse News Bureau