As COVID-19 cases spike at St. Cloud prison, state moves intake to Lino Lakes

Prison wall
Prison wall at St. Cloud Correctional Facility. The Minnesota correctional facility in St. Cloud is seeing a big jump in COVID-19 cases, and the state Department of Corrections says it's temporarily moving intake operations to Lino Lakes.
Tim Post | MPR News 2006

With a rising number of positive cases of COVID-19 at the state prison in St. Cloud, the Minnesota Department of Corrections plans to temporarily move its intake operations from the central Minnesota site to its facility in Lino Lakes.

As of Tuesday, the Minnesota Correctional Facility-St. Cloud reported 122 positive or presumed positive cases of COVID-19 — a big jump from just two cases in late June.

Minnesota Department of Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell.
Minnesota Department of Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell
Evan Frost | MPR News 2019

Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell attributed the increase in positive cases to recent “sentinel” testing of all inmates and staff.

Most of those who have tested positive were inmates who didn’t have any symptoms, he said.

Schnell also pointed to the St. Cloud site’s unique role as the state’s intake facility. All incarcerated men in the state prison system first go to St. Cloud — including those who are newly sentenced and those who have violated probation or the conditions of their release.

All inmates are quarantined for 14 days after arriving in St. Cloud, which includes required mask-wearing and separate recreation time from the prison’s general population. Once the men are sent to another prison, they are quarantined for another two weeks.

However, staff are coming in and out of the facility every day, Schnell said. He compared the spike at St. Cloud to an outbreak at the Faribault prison, where the number of positive cases broke 200 earlier this month, then leveled off.

“I think we have to recognize and expect that COVID is going to happen in these facilities,” Schnell said. “We want to do everything we can to minimize the introduction and the spread of it within the facilities. But the challenge that COVID presents is the high levels of asymptomatic people.”

Schnell said corrections staff in St. Cloud have done a “remarkable” job working to prevent a spike since the statewide outbreak began in March, given the challenges of a prison environment, like other congregate care settings, where people are housed in close quarters and share common spaces.

The design of older prisons like St. Cloud, which has bars on cells instead of solid doors, also can make it easier for the virus to spread, Schnell said.

Schnell said the Corrections Department learned a lot from early outbreaks at other facilities, such as at Willow River and Moose Lake, which had high numbers of infections among staff. Some of the protocols implemented at those facilities, such as requiring staff to wear N95 masks, could be adopted at St. Cloud in the short term, he said.

Schnell said the intake function will move to Lino Lakes this week, and will remain there “for the foreseeable future” to allow the St. Cloud facility to stabilize its number of cases — until the total number of people who have recovered from COVID-19 there is equal to the number of people there who have tested positive.

The same 14-day quarantine process for new arrivals will be used at Lino Lake, he said.

COVID-19 in Minnesota

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