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Michigan prison officials fear Omicron is fueling COVID outbreak

Prisoners stand in a crowded lunch line during a prison tour at Elmore Correctional Facility in Elmore, Ala. A Department of Justice report finds violence in Alabama's overcrowded prisons is 'cruel' and 'pervasive.'
Brynn Anderson
/
AP
Prisoners stand in a crowded lunch line during a prison tour at Elmore Correctional Facility in Elmore, Ala. A Department of Justice report finds violence in Alabama's overcrowded prisons is 'cruel' and 'pervasive.'

Michigan corrections officials say hundreds of state inmates and prison staff tested positive for COVID-19 over the past week-and-a-half, but officials fear the Omicron variant is driving the outbreak.

When Covid hit Michigan last year, it hit the prison system hard.

The virus infected about half of the roughly 32-thousand inmates and 140 of them died from it.

Corrections department spokesperson Chris Gautz says the number of Covid cases dropped as vaccines became widely available.

But now Gautz says infections are increasing again, fast.

“Just in the last less than 10 days we’ve seen more than 240 employees test positive, along with more than 400 some prisoners. So, while we’ve not yet seen the sequencing to prove that we have Omicron in our facilities, certainly there are many who believe that it could be there, just because of how transmissible we know that it is.”

Gautz says the corrections department was already operating short-handed and is actively recruiting for new employees.

Quinn Klinefelter is a host and Senior News Editor for 101.9 WDET, anchoring midday newscasts and preparing reports for WDET, NPR and the BBC. Klinefelter joined WDET in 1998 after earning a M.A. from the nation’s top-ranked journalism school, the University of Missouri-Columbia, and working as a sports correspondent for BBC Radio 4 and as a talk show host, anchor and reporter for Wisconsin Public Radio.