LISBON — Gov. Mike DeWine said a couple of dozen of the Ohio National Guard will soon bolster medical staff at Federal Correctional Institution in Elkton, which is being overtaxed by an outbreak of the new coronavirus, or COVID-19.
“There’s no doubt the prison needs help,” DeWine said during a Monday briefing on the state’s coronavirus response.
As of Monday evening, eight inmates and one staff member have reportedly tested positive for the virus, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Three inmates have died.
DeWine said Monday “dozens more” have shown symptoms of the virus.
The governor said 26 guardsmen and women will be at the prison for between 7 to 10 days or until federal assistance arrives, assisting with non-COVID-19 cases as well as cases in which inmates are showing symptoms of the virus but have not been diagnosed.
Those servicemembers all have medical training and will be given N95 masks, he said.
“This is a medical mission only,” DeWine said, adding the guard won’t be armed or working security at the prison. “They will treat those they can while triaging others with serious symptoms.”
They may also assist with hospital transports, he said.
The U.S. Department of Justice on Friday acknowledged FCI Elkton and other federal prisons in Danbury, Conn., and Oakdale, La., are struggling to contain the virus.
DeWine said the state on Monday received a formal request for assistance for the guard.
He said though the prison is run by the federal government and houses inmates from all over the country, it’s manned primarily by Ohioans whose families live in the Lisbon area.
“We’re all in this together and providing state help to this federal prison is the right thing to do,” he said. “In the meantime, I do feel that the U.S. Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Prisons should stop any intake going into that prison for any reason.”
DeWine said he requested as much Sunday night from bureau Director Michael Carvajal.
“When an outbreak inside the prison takes place, it’s certainly not the time to introduce new inmates to that population,” DeWine said.
The federal CARES Act signed into law late last month grants special authority to U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr to expedite the release of federal inmates, or place non-violent or non-sexual offenders on home confinement. More than 550 have been moved to home confinement so far, according to the Bureau of Prisons.
The prison is more or less operating as an “island” and only taking guidance from the federal government, said Laura Fauss, public information officer for the Columbiana County Health District, which has been sharing state-level information with the prison but doesn’t have any jurisdiction over it.
The Bureau of Prisons has not responded to an interview request sent last week by Mahoning Matters.
Mahoning Matters has also been unable to contact Joseph Mayle, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 607, which represents correctional officers at the prison, though requests have been sent.