Quad-Cities area legislators have again raised concerns over whether quarantined federal inmates will be adequately tested to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The federal Bureau of Prisons announced in April that it would use 11 of its locations as quarantine sites for newly sentenced people before their transfer to the prison where they would serve their sentence. One of those locations is the federal prison near Thomson, Ill., about 50 miles north of the Quad-Cities.
The legislators, including U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Illinois, and U.S. Senators Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, and Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois, want the inmates subject to the program to be tested before their transfer to confirm they are not infected, according to a news release issued by U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley’s office. Grassley, R-Iowa, also supports more strenuous vetting of the inmates.
They argue asymptomatic people (those who are not showing symptoms) may not be identified by the present screenings, which could increase the risk of COVID-19 spreading.
The bureau of prisons had not responded to a request for an update about the quarantine program or a response to the legislators’ concerns as of Wednesday afternoon.
Thomson’s website stated the penitentiary had 1,087 inmates. Of these, 1,012 were in the high security penitentiary and 75 were in a minimum security camp.
This was roughly the same complement as was listed in late April when the penitentiary was designated as a quarantine location. At that time, the BOP reported no transfers of new inmates under the quarantine program.
The BOP website’s COVID-19 page showed no positive cases reported at Thomson.
The coronavirus is present in Carroll County, where Thomson is located, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health’s website on Wednesday. The county had 12 positive cases and two deaths reported.
The Carroll County Health Department posted the same numbers in a news release dated May 10.
The health department said Wednesday that its cases were all Carroll County residents, not inmates.
Quad-Cities area federal legislators have raised their concerns twice before — when the quarantine program was first announced, and earlier in April when the bureau transferred 20 federal prisoners from the Metropolitan Correction Center in Chicago to Thomson. There is an outbreak at the Chicago facility.
In April, the bureau said that as part of its COVID-19 response it had limited movement for existing inmates, but must by law accept new inmates and hold people remanded to its custody who are awaiting trial in a federal case.
The quarantine locations are designed to take pressure off federal facilities that initially house new inmates before they are sent to their final assignments, the bureau said. The existing locations do not have the capacities for longer-than normal stays.
The bureau also at that time detailed some of the measures in place to counter the risk of spreading the coronavirus during the quarantine transfers.
The quarantine sites are not for housing inmates known to have COVID-19, and new inmates are screened for infection.
Inmates who exhibit symptoms won’t be accepted, the bureau said. Inmates who exhibit symptoms during pretransfer screenings are isolated.
When they are transferred, the prisoners will wear cloth coverings over their faces, the BOP said.
It said the quarantine facilities had the needed protective and sanitation equipment, the bed space and the staff to handle the quarantine inmates.
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