More COVID-19 testing at Shelby Co. penal farm, new outbreaks reported at prisons

COVID-19 testing to increase at Shelby Co. penal farm

SHELBY COUNTY, Tenn. (WMC) - The fight against coronavirus continues to shift toward jails and prisons, which expert say house some of the most at-risk populations.

Shelby County leaders say they will increase testing at the Shelby County penal farm. Meanwhile, there are new outbreaks at Tennessee state prisons.


Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris says only one inmate has tested positive for COVID-19 at the penal farm, but only five inmates have been tested.

He says that will change.

“In fact, I’ve asked the health department to organize a surge in testing at the penal farm by June 8,” Harris said.

On Tuesday, Shelby County Health Department Director Alicia Haushalter said the outbreaks at 201 Poplar and nursing homes were higher priorities.

She then explained why more testing at the penal farm wasn't done weeks ago.

"The reason why there wasn't more testing initially would have to go back to the initial recommendations for testing. Initially, the CDC only recommended testing individuals who were symptomatic," said Haushalter.

However, Haushalter says measures were put in place early on at the penal farm, including screening inmates and staff for symptoms.


As for state prisons, numbers from the Tennessee Department of Correction show more than 1,800 inmates who tested positive in early April have recovered.

But recent tests show new outbreaks, including 152 inmates who tested positive at the Hardeman County Correctional Facility; 53 inmates tested positive at the Mark Luttrell Transitional Center. Only six inmates tested positive at West Tennessee State Penitentiary.

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Tennessee tested more than 20,000 inmates statewide.

In Mississippi, only 15 inmates have tested positive, though fewer than 60 inmates have been tested statewide.

Arkansas says 906 of its prisoners who tested positive have recovered, while 150 others are still being monitored.


The Shelby County Sheriff’s Office says almost all inmates who tested positive at 201 Poplar a few weeks ago have recovered, but on Tuesday afternoon when they tried moving about 50 of them back to their regular housing units, they say those inmates refused to return.

That led to a short standoff.

Capt. Anthony Buckner with the Shelby County Sheriff's Office said officers deployed a chemical agent.

"The Detention Response Team was sent to the floor to help support ongoing efforts to gain voluntary compliance. A chemical agent was released near the detainees after they refused all staff orders to comply and sat on the floor," Buckner said. "Shortly thereafter, the detainees complied and relocated to their respective housing units."

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Buckner said no one was hurt.

“We believe that this incident was largely due to the detainees wanting to remain in the dormitory-style housing as opposed to the pod style of housing,” Buckner said.

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