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TCI staff, inmates see virus on rise

LEAVITTSBURG — The number of staff and inmate cases of COVID-19 at the Trumbull Correctional Institution continues to climb.

It’s been two weeks since concerns of a possible spike were first reported.

On June 17, the prison had 14 staff members who had tested positive for the virus, but the number rose to 26 as of Friday. The number rose from 22 to 26 between Wednesday and Thursday.

Prison officials said in mid-June they expected the number of staff cases to rise because all staff members were being tested.

But the number of inmate cases also rose from 17 on June 17 to 37 on Friday. The number of inmates in isolation rose from 21 on June 17 to 47 on Friday. That number rose by three from Tuesday to Wednesday.

Being in isolation means an inmate who is sick is being kept apart from inmates who are not sick.

Mass testing on TCI inmates is not being done, prison officials have said.

In response to the rising numbers and a shortage of medical staff at the prison, the Ohio National Guard deployed a seven-member team to TCI on Wednesday.

National Guard personnel are taking temperatures, vitals and providing other support that falls within its level of medical training, the National Guard said.

Ohio National Guard airmen and soldiers previously augmented medical and guard staffing, constructed temporary housing and taken COVID-19 sample collections at several state and federal prisons.

Trumbull County as a whole has seen a sizable increase in coronavirus cases in the past week. It led to Trumbull County becoming on Thursday one of seven counties in Ohio to be classified in the second-highest level of risk for COVID-19. The second level is the red level, meaning there is a “very high exposure and spread” within the county.

Officials from the Trumbull County Combined Health District did not mention TCI as a reason for the spike in Trumbull County’s COVID-19 cases Thursday and could not be reached for comment Friday because the department was closed for the July 4 holiday.

INMATE’S WIFE

Meanwhile, a a Cleveland woman, Jeanna Kenney, contacted the newspaper to talk about her husband, Peter Kenney, who is serving a 36-years-to-life prison sentence at TCI for aggravated murder and kidnapping out of Cuyahoga County.

Jeanna Kenney, who married Peter Kenney, 36, last October, is president of EPIC, Ensuring Parole for Incarcerated Citizens, a nonprofit organization that fights for fair treatment for Ohio inmates.

The group has held rallies at various state prisons since March and plans to hold one near TCI at 3 p.m. Aug. 29.

Jeanna Kenney said she disagrees with the assessment Sandra Swann, director of nursing for the Trumbull County Combined Health District, provided two weeks ago when she said she thought prison officials were “on top of” virus-related issues at TCI.

A call to Swann on Thursday was not returned.

Peter Kenney’s cell mate tested positive for the virus a week ago, but Jeanna Kenney said she feels prison officials should have provided him medical care earlier. The cell mate since has been placed on a ventilator, Jeanna Kenney said.

She said she now believes Peter Kenney contracted the virus from sharing a cell with the other inmate, and she fears TCI could be in the midst of a big spike in cases. She said she believes her husband and others should be isolated from other inmates, and he is not.

“They’re just not putting enough care into it,” she said. “I feel when you are taking someone out of the block and putting them on a ventilator, everyone on that block should have been tested. And then you isolate them until the tests come back and you pull out the ones you have to pull out. But that’s not what was happening.”

She said she thinks when an inmate has a pending COVID-19 test, he should be isolated from other inmates so they do not spread infection.

She said she believes that is what caused surges of the virus in other Ohio prisons.

PRISON RESPONSE

JoEllen Smith, ODRC spokesperson, replied Thursday to a request for comment on Jeanna Kenney’s remarks by stating in an email: “Daily medical screenings are conducted on the inmate population. This includes a verbal symptom screening, a temperature check and use of pulse oximetry,” which is a test used to measure the oxygen saturation of the blood.

“Inmates are given treatment for symptoms and have adequate access to medical care during daily medical screenings, during individual assessments, and on an as-needed basis by signing up for sick call,” she said. “They also have the option of requesting emergency care.”

She provided a May 4 ODRC document that detailed the testing measures the ODRC has employed regarding inmates, saying mass testing began at Marion Correctional Institute on April 11 after a staff member tested positive.

The result was that 81 percent of inmates tested positive but only 6 percent of those who tested positive showed any symptoms of the virus. Inmates testing positive were isolated, but the virus “spread throughout the facility,” the document states.

The lessons from mass testing resulted in the current testing approach, the document states. That includes testing inmates when they enter the prison system, those presenting symptoms of the virus and before being released.

erunyan@tribtoday.com

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