COLUMBUS (WKBN) – During Monday’s afternoon press conference, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine addressed COVID-19 cases at the federal prison in Columbiana County and his plan to help.
The Elkton Federal Correctional Institution, outside of Lisbon, is the only federal prison in Ohio. It is not run by the state — it’s run by the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the U.S. Department of Justice.
Seven inmates at Elkton have tested positive for COVID-19 and dozens more are showing symptoms, DeWine said. Three inmates have died.
DeWine said he started getting calls from local officials and others over the weekend, concerned about the situation at Elkton.
The Ohio National Guard visited the prison and said medical staffing there is only 50% of what it should be.
DeWine said he is sending up to 26 Guardsmen and women to help with medical care at the prison.
These soldiers, who have been trained in the medical field, will not be armed and will not be providing security.
“This is a medical mission only,” DeWine said.
The National Guard will treat the inmates they can and triage others for hospital care. They will have proper personal protective equipment as they care for inmates.
The National Guard will also be bringing more equipment and ambulances.
DeWine said they will be there for seven to ten days until more federal help arrives.
Even though inmates at the prison are from all over the country, the prison is in Ohio and is staffed primarily by Ohioans, DeWine said. Additionally, when inmates get sick, they are taken to local hospitals.
DeWine said providing help is the right thing to do.
He is also requesting that the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Prisons not send any new prisoners to Elkton for the time being.
“This is not the time to introduce new inmates to that population,” he said.
DeWine said as a state governor, he has no authority to release any federal prisoners.
Congressman Bill Johnson released the following statement after DeWine’s announcement:
“Since first hearing reports about the deteriorating COVID-19 conditions at the Federal Correctional Institution in Elkton, located in Columbiana County, late last week, I’ve spoken with the officials at the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the Department of Justice, Governor DeWine and his team, the warden at Elkton, the Ohio National Guard, and local hospitals treating patients from the facility. As of today, 23 inmates and 2 staff members have tested positive for coronavirus, several tests are pending, numerous inmates are in local hospitals (some of them on ventilators), and there have been 3 deaths.
We’ve got to protect the staff and inmates at Elkton from the COVID-19 outbreak, and right now that facility is like a petri dish, a breeding ground for the virus. Staff members are coming home to their families and communities after their shifts, and inmates are in close proximity to each other with limited means to isolate or quarantine. And, the hospitals in the region run the risk of being overwhelmed if the outbreak isn’t stopped in its tracks. These hospitals, some of them very small rural community hospitals, need to be ready in case there is a sudden outbreak in their own local communities; and, they must have the capability and capacity to perform their regular duties. But, we have a moral responsibility to protect the health and safety of both staff and inmates at the Elkton facility — and that’s exactly what we are going to do.
Governor DeWine has called out the Ohio National Guard to help, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineering is also lending a hand to combat the virus in this very unique environment. Hospitals around the region are pitching in to make sure no single hospital is overwhelmed beyond their capacity to handle. In addition, the Federal Bureau of Prisons is also actively involved to halt the influx of more inmates into the facility. I’m monitoring this situation daily, but with this ‘all hands on deck’ approach, I expect we will begin to see some improvement there shortly.
Thanks to everyone involved — this is definitely a team effort.”