Michigan National Guard to aid in testing prisoners for COVID-19

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Medical specialists from the Michigan National Guard will assist the Michigan Department of Corrections with testing every staff and prisoner in the state, Michigan State Police announced Saturday.

Chippewa East Correctional Facility

Officials said in a statement they will start Monday at the Baraga Correctional Facility and move east across the Upper Peninsula with a goal of testing one facility each day.

After Baraga, staff plan to test Alger Correctional Facility, Marquette Branch Prison, Newberry Correctional Facility, Chippewa Correctional Facility and Kinross Correctional Facility. Officials estimate they will test 7,500 prisoners for the novel coronavirus.

The majority of the soldiers working are residents of the U.P., officials said. Correction department employees who are active members of the Guard at these facilities will also assist in the process.

The soldiers will be sent out in 15 teams of three people to work with correction staff to test the facilities.

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Medical specialists from the National Guard will be in each team and will handle sample collections from the prisoners. The samples will be taken to a lab for testing and results should return within 48 hours, according to the release.

"The medical professionals of the Michigan National Guard are proud to assist with COVID-19 testing in the Upper Peninsula," said Maj. Gen. Paul Rogers, adjutant general and director of the Michigan Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, in a statement Saturday. "We are community members and neighbors, and we always ready to assist in the fight against COVID-19."

As of Saturday, 1,825 prisoners have a confirmed case of the virus and 41 fatalities. 

The majority of cases are housed at Lakeland Correctional Facility (789 cases, 14 deaths,) G. Robert Cotton Correctional Facility (402 cases, zero deaths) Parnell Correctional Facility (170 cases, nine deaths,) Macomb Correctional Facility (95 cases, five deaths,) and Women's Huron Valley Correctional Facility (79 cases, three deaths.)

The Corrections Department also has 275 staff members with confirmed cases of the virus and two deaths.

MDOC Director Heidi Washington said in a statement they are very grateful for the National Guard's support and the assistance will "allow us to accelerate our plans for testing our population, which will help us keep our staff, prisoners and the public safe."

David Jahn, president and CEO of the War Memorial Hospital in Sault Ste Marie, said data collection is vital.

"The clinicians, staff and patients of War Memorial Hospital appreciate the effort to fully test and identify the prevalence of the COVID-19 virus at Kinross Correctional Facility and other prisons in the UP,” Jahn said. “As a CEO who could be calling upon my staff to care for very sick infectious disease patients, I need to have as much information as possible to be prepared for a surge."


Twitter: @SarahRahal_