Oshkosh Correctional Institution experiences COVID-19 outbreak

Published: Oct. 6, 2020 at 6:33 PM CDT
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OSHKOSH, Wis. (WBAY) - Action 2 News is following an outbreak of COVID-19 at Oshkosh Correctional Institution.

With an inmate population of about 2,000, the Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC) website shows 370 positive cases among inmates in the prison on Tuesday with 337 of those cases active.

In addition, there are 37 confirmed cases among staff members 24 of which are still active.

We have received a number of tips from viewers in recent days about the rising number of COVID-19 cases at Oshkosh Correctional Institution. Many of those tips came from family members of inmates concerned for the health and safety of their loved ones.

“It’s heartbreaking to where I cried yesterday, because if he gets sick, he has asthma,” said Giavanna Loeffler. “At this point if they’re not taking care of the other inmates properly what could happen to him?”

Loeffler has a son with an inmate who has been in the prison just over a month and a half. She tells Action 2 News his incarceration there stared with a two week quarantine which he served in a cell with no personal property and only one shower per week.

“He got a small finger toothbrush as well as a small toothpaste as well as tiny, little soap bar to last him those two weeks,” said Loeffler.

There is no in-person visitation allowed, and video visits were suspended at Oshkosh Correctional Institution at the end of last month. Loeffler also says phones have now been shut off.

According to the DOC Director of Communications John Beard, the medical team at Oshkosh advised that phones be shut off temporarily because of the rise in cases. An email from Beard to Action 2 News reads in part, “The phones are highly-used areas. I spoke with leadership there today and they are looking at the best way to safely start using them again. They anticipate have a cleaning plan in place that allows for them to safely start using the phones again before the end of the week.”

Another mother to an inmate at Oshkosh Correctional Institution says the prison staff is screening incoming and outgoing letters and emails.

“Everyone thinks they’re bad criminals. They’re still human beings, and it’s not fair that they’re getting treated like this,” said Loeffler.

Beard says test results from mass testing conducted in the prison by the Wisconsin National Guard last week were reported with Monday’s numbers on the DOC website.

We have new details about what it like inside of the facility. A Facebook post made on Monday in a closed group for DOC workers describes ambulances coming to the prison several times a day transporting inmates with the virus to a local hospital. It also talks about angry inmates with COVID-19 spitting at staff as they get locked in cells.

According to the post, a number of staff members are out on quarantine with civilian staff and officers stepping up to perform jobs typically carried out by inmates now unable to work.

Despite what is happening, it reads in part, “All the staff have been doing a great job working together to through this.”

Loeffler says inmates are required to wear masks, but others who have reached out to Action 2 News express concern over if that happens and if the masks are worn properly.

When asked about personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies, Beard says, “The DOC has distributed cloth face coverings to all DAI staff and persons in our care. Each person in our care is provided three face coverings for free. These are double-ply cotton, so they can be laundered and reused. And there are mask mandates. Staff members are required to wear face coverings when entering and working in state facilities. They can take them off when they are eating, drinking or working alone in an enclosed space/office. Persons in our care are required to wear their face coverings when in common areas, but not in their rooms.”

When it comes to hospitalizations, Beard says the DOC is covered by HIPPA and cannot reveal how many inmates have been hospitalized; however, he did tell Action 2 News there have been inmate hospitalizations this year at facilities around the state. If an inmate’s condition needs greater treatment than what is available on site, he or she would be transported to a local hospital.

The DOC is not speculating on the cause of the COVID-19 outbreak calling the virus “highly-contagious” and difficult to trace back to an original source.

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