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Corrections Department's COVID-19 testing plan includes Algoa Correctional Center

Any Missourian can be tested in counties of current focus by Phillip Sitter | May 26, 2020 at 10:05 p.m. | Updated May 26, 2020 at 10:15 p.m.
Missouri Department of Corrections Director Anne Precythe speaks during a COVID-19 briefing Tuesday, May 26, 2020, as Gov. Mike Parson looks on.

The Missouri Department of Corrections has the capability to test everyone in its adult system for COVID-19, and the department's multi-phase testing plan includes Jefferson City's Algoa Correctional Center.

There are approximately 32,000 people in the adult system, including offenders and staff, said Anne Precythe, director of the Department of Corrections.

In addition to testing people already showing symptoms and those who may have been exposed to the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, Precythe said the department is developing a comprehensive sentinel testing plan.

Sentinel testing is a process of testing most or all members of a large group of people living or working together in close contact, even if there are no known cases of COVID-19 in that location, according to DOC spokesperson Karen Pojmann.

Currently, only one DOC facility, Southeast Correctional Center, has experienced an outbreak of COVID-19.

"Before, during and after this process takes place, we will continue to follow the viral containment plans implemented at all facilities," Pojmann said. "If some members of the corrections community test positive for COVID-19, we will continue our strategy of isolating offenders and sending staff home."

Sentinel testing began Tuesday at Southeast Correctional Center in Charleston and South Central Correctional Center in Licking.

Precythe said the goal is to test 3,500 staff and offenders over four days.

Testing at those two maximum-security facilities is the the first phase of a broader plan, with Algoa Correctional Center in Jefferson City and Chillicothe Correctional Center in Chillicothe being the second phase, she said.

Testing will take place at Algoa and Chillicothe correctional centers beginning May 31.

The goal for the second phase is to test 2,900 staff and offenders over another four-day period, with the second phase informed by what's learned in the first phase, Precythe said.

Missouri National Guard medics and DOC staff started testing at Southeast and South Central correctional centers at 6 a.m. Tuesday - with everyone being properly fitted for N95 respirator masks and other personal protective equipment, she said.

Five National Guard medics were working two eight-hour shifts and one employee health nurse, and began testing with staff, Precythe said.

After testing staff, the National Guard medics would join contracted health care providers inside facilities to test offenders.

The testing would continue over four days, with a target of testing 875 people per institution per day, Precythe said.

Results would come back within 24 hours, she said.

She said the data from the first four facilities will be used to refine and adjust processes as testing continues at other prisons.

DOC officials said they had not decided when testing will take place at Jefferson City Correctional Center, but it will depend on how the first two rounds of testing go.

If everyone at a site tests negative, Pojmann said, it means what they're doing is working.

"It does not mean the public health crisis is over," she added. "It also does not mean we can immediately return to 'normal.' However, the test results can help us to keep your loved ones safe and can give us the information we need to make informed decisions about the future and a gradual return to more regular operations. This testing is a necessary first step to helping you reconnect safely with your loved ones."

Visitations at all prisons have been suspended through June 18.

Beyond that, Precythe said all new offenders are being screened at in-take, and with the new availability of supplies, all new arrivals at in-take will be able to be tested.

Likewise, while offenders have been screened one week prior to their release, the department will also be able to test them one week prior to release.

"Testing is not something we're doing to you. Testing is something we're doing for you," Precythe said, speaking to all Missourians.

Missourians who live in any county can go get tested where the state is beginning a new round of community testing - sampling intended to give a better picture of the prevalence of COVID-19 in the state.

Gov. Mike Parson said community testing started Tuesday in Jackson and St. Charles counties.

Testing in Boone, Cape Girardeau, Greene and Jefferson counties will start next week, Parson said.

Any Missouri resident who wishes to be tested at those sites can do so without cost to them - and they do not have to be showing symptoms, he added.

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