State corrections officials are stepping up “mass testing” of prisoners and inmates at the Muskegon Correction Facility following an outbreak of cases — potentially sourced by prison staffers.

Michigan Department of Corrections spokesman Chris Gautz said contrary to some rumors, the virus is not believed to have come from inmate transfers from other prisons.

“Transfers have been minimal and any prisoner transferred to another facility has had to have had two negative tests,” said Gautz. “Since we have not permitted outside visitors — family, friends or lawyers — since mid-March the speculation is it’s being brought in by staffers.

“One thing we know about the virus is that it only takes one source for it to spread,” he said.

Gautz said there is an ongoing investigation into possible source of virus.

All 1,200 inmates and staffers are issued masks, instructed to repeatedly use hand soaps and practice social distancing at all times when possible, he said.

There are 168 prisoners among the state prison population of 34,972 who have tested COVID positive. Of those positive cases, the majority — 155 — were from the Muskegon facility, he said.

“We have had the virus spike at other facilities during the pandemic,” Gautz said, noting at one point about 700 inmates, over half the population at the Lakeland Correctional Facility in Coldwater.

“We have spikes that are detected and then go down,” he said. “Right now, it’s Muskegon. That is why we are doing the mass testing.”

Gautz said no one has been hospitalized or has died from COVID-19 at the Muskegon facility.

Corrections records show 68 inmates across Michigan have died from COVID since April 1, spread out over several facilities. There have been more than 57,000 tests conducted statewide, MDOC records show.

Testing began July 31 at two housing units in the Muskegon prison, with 762 prisoners tested on Tuesday with results hopefully to be returned by end of this week, Gautz said.

Two Muskegon staffers have tested positive, he said. Testing is routinely offered free to all staffers who are also advised of off-site testing sites to visit.

Gautz discounted rumors that COVID-positive prisoners are housed in the general population with negative cases.

“Any prisoners who have tested positive are sent to designated wings of two facilities: Duane Water Health Center at Jackson and the Carson City Correctional facility,” he said. “They are not placed into the general population. They are removed from it.”

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