RICI sign

MANSFIELD -- State and local officials are dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak at the Richland Correctional Institution, where 28 inmates have tested positive for coronavirus with results pending from 18 additional tests.

As of Monday, the prison at 1001 S. Olivesburg Road on the city's northeast side, had 1,829 inmates in quarantine (out of 2,332) and 35 in isolation, according to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

According to the state prison system website, quarantine separates and restricts the movement of people who were exposed, or potentially exposed, to a contagious disease to see if they become sick.

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Isolation separates sick people with a contagious  disease from people who are not sick, according to the website.

The ODRC website also shows 17 of the prison's 400-plus staff have tested positive, though four are listed as recovered.

None of the inmates or staff members have required hospitalization, ODRC  spokeswoman JoEllen Smith said late Monday afternoon.

Mansfield Fire Chief Steve Strickling said Monday morning his department has not transported any prison inmates or staff in recent days.

"We have designated (RICI) as one of our local hotspots," the chief said. "Whenever we go out there, we are going to take complete COVID-19 precautions with every person we take out of there."

The state didn't say when the outbreak began at the dormitory-style, open-bay prison, which opened in 1998 and is built on 78 acres, not far from the Mansfield Correctional Institution, which opened in 1991.

There were no active cases at MANCI as of Monday afternoon, though the state lists one "probable" death of a MANCI inmate since the pandemic reached Ohio in March.

"As a result of the increasing number of positive COVID-19 test results involving staff and residents during the past month, additional modifications to operational procedures were put in place," Smith said of the situation at RICI.

"This includes assigning the residents to more restrictive cohorts (cohorting has been in place for several months) and bringing essential services to the housing units to minimize movement and interaction among residents," she said.

"These changes are in addition to the numerous practices that have been implemented since the beginning of the pandemic. Staff and residents have undergone daily symptom screening for several months, and this process continues."

When a staff member or resident tests positive for COVID-19, the local health department is notified and contact tracing is conducted, Smith said.

When asked if keeping inmates isolated is made harder by RICI's design, Smith said the prison has inmate cohorts that don't intermingle with other cohorts.

"Just like in a residential household, individuals in a correctional setting who are residing in a specific living unit or cohort may interact with one another, but these cohorts do not interact with other cohorts. Individuals are encouraged to maintain social distancing when possible, and there is also some personal responsibility by the (inmates) to help achieve this," she said.

"Additional hand sanitizer has been placed within the housing units," she said. "Several months ago, (the state) ordered beds to be placed six feet apart and inmates are sleeping head-to-toe in order create additional social distancing opportunities.

"Residents and staff are also required to wear masks. In addition, the facility follows an aggressive cleaning and disinfecting plan, which includes cleaning and sanitizing high-touch areas every 30 minutes," she said.

The 28 inmates who have tested positive thus far are being treated at the prison, Smith said.

"These individuals are being medically isolated and monitored," she said. "They will remain in this status until they are determined to be recovered by medical staff or can no longer legally be held due to the expiration of their sentence."

Smith admitted the pandemic has put stress on facilities at the state's prisons, which have seen more than 6,000 positive inmate tests since March, as well as 96 confirmed or probable inmate deaths.

In addition more than 1,100 state prison staff members have tested positive for COVID-19, five of whom have died.

"COVID presents unique challenges in congregate environment such as a correctional facility. Policies and practices are reviewed on a daily basis and changes are made when necessary to maintain the safety and health of our staff and the incarcerated population," Smith said.

City editor. 30-year plus journalist. Husband. Father of 3 grown sons and also a proud grandpa. Prior military journalist in U.S. Navy, Ohio Air National Guard. -- Favorite quote: "Where were you when the page was blank?"