With COVID-19 cases down, the Missouri Department of Corrections is dropping its COVID-19 precautions for people visiting prisons next month.
Starting April 1, Missouri prisons will return to their pre-pandemic visiting procedures as they drop advanced scheduling requirements and return visiting rooms to full capacity, DOC announced Wednesday.
Face masks will no longer be required for visitors, offenders or staff.
COVID-19 cases within Missouri prisons have been trending down for several weeks, said Karen Pojmann, communications director for the department. Statewide, she said active cases have been in the single digits for offenders and employees for the past two weeks.
There are seven active COVID-19 cases among offenders and four among prison staff, according to the DOC website.
Most of the active cases are concentrated in reception and diagnostic centers, where the state correctional system takes in new offenders, Pojmann said.
"We're able to pretty well control that," she said. "And our wastewater testing shows no detectable levels of the virus in any of our facilities."
Algoa Correctional Center and Jefferson City Correctional Center don't have any active cases among offenders or staff, according to the department's website.
Algoa Correctional Center has had 200 offenders and 120 staff members recover from COVID-19 and Jefferson City Correctional Center has had 488 offenders and 252 staff members recover.
Pojmann said the move back to pre-pandemic visiting procedures could lead to more people visiting with offenders in state prisons, particularly those who couldn't schedule visits as required by the COVID-19 precautions the department put in place in 2020.
The Department of Corrections began a phased reopening of visits last June after shutting them down amid the COVID-19 pandemic. As cases within prisons declined, vaccinated offenders were allowed visitation in June 2021. It was then extended to all offenders last October.
The department added new precautions for when it reopened visits, including the addition of advanced scheduling requirements, mask requirements, COVID-19 screening and temperature checks and capacity limits for visiting rooms.
Visiting rooms were limited to 75 percent capacity and offenders were no longer allowed more than two visitors per visit. Those measures will be lifted April 1.
Staffing to oversee visiting rooms is still a concern for the department, Pojmann said, but the return to pre-pandemic procedures should also free up more staff to supervise as they no longer have to take calls and schedule the visiting appointments.
The department is asking people who have a fever or any other COVID-19 symptoms to refrain from visiting as anyone with COVID-19 symptoms or other communicable diseases can be denied entry.
The department is still requiring visitors to have an approved visiting application and its usual visiting rules still apply.