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Family members shocked by latest COVID-19 numbers inside state prisons; CoreCivic prison has most

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Posted at 6:08 PM, May 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-01 19:24:00-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Many family members with loved ones inside the privately operated Trousdale Turner Correctional Center (TTCC) were shocked to learn more than half of the inmates in the facility had tested positive for the coronavirus.

The state ordered CoreCivic, which operates the prison, to test all inmates at the facility earlier this week.

The results showed 1,299 inmates tested positive for COVID-19.

The facility tested 2,444 inmates.

Susan Vermillion is scared for her husband.

She doesn't know if he's one of those who tested positive, but she worried this day would come.

"They don't have any way to stay six feet apart. A lot of them are using bed sheets to cover their bunks to try to help," Vermillion said.

Friday, a handful of family members marched near Legislative Plaza in downtown Nashville.

Kathleen Konop's son, David Lee, is in prison in Bledsoe County which has more than 580 cases.

"He told me to be his voice and speak for him, and that's what I'm doing out here. I don't want my son to die in there. He didn't do anything for a death sentence," Konop said.

Susan Vermillion blames CoreCivic for not doing more in recent weeks.

She questions reports from CoreCivic that all inmates who tested positive showed no symptoms.

"He knew a lot of inmates were coughing and sneezing all the time," Vermillion said.

She said inmates weren't given masks until three weeks ago.

She wishes the state would take over the prison from CoreCivic.

"That place needs to be shut down. It's barbaric," Vermillion said.

Many others with loved ones inside Trousdale Turner were afraid to speak out against CoreCivic, but Vermillion said with more than 1,000 sick inmates - it's time.

"Me staying quiet isn't going to help the situation. Something needs to be done," Vermillion said.

CoreCivic released a statement saying the health and safety of individuals entrusted to our care and our staff is the top priority for CoreCivic.

It said two inmates are getting treated in the hospital.

It also said 50 staff members tested positive for the virus.

Here is the full statement from CoreCivic:

HARTSVILLE, Tenn. – May 1, 2020 - In continued efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, CoreCivic has received results from this week's facility-wide inmate and staff testing at Trousdale Turner Correctional Center in Hartsville, TN. Staff testing includes both employees and contractors.

"The health and safety of the individuals entrusted to our care and our staff is the top priority for CoreCivic," said Keith Ivens, M.D., CoreCivic's Chief Medical Officer. "This commitment is shared by our partners at the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC), and we have worked closely together with TDOC and state health officials to respond to this unprecedented situation appropriately, thoroughly and with care for the well-being of those entrusted to us and our communities."

CoreCivic is following TDOC’s tiered approach to testing based on the recent positive results at Trousdale Turner Correctional Center. The results of this testing at the facility will help inform additional decisions and efforts to cohort and quarantine those inmates who are positive or might have been exposed to the virus. We will continue to monitor and consult with TDOC on whether additional testing is needed elsewhere.

Inmate testing at the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center was conducted Tuesday, April 28 and Wednesday, April 29 in partnership with TDOC. Staff testing was conducted Wednesday, April 29 in partnership with the Tennessee National Guard. The results are as follows:

Inmate Testing Staff Testing

Total inmates tested: 2,444 Total employees tested: 281

Total negative results:1,145 Total negative results:192

Total positive results:1,299 Total positive results: 50

Pending tests: 13 Pending tests: 39

Human resources is currently coordinating with employees who were not available for testing this week to ensure testing has been completed before they are permitted to enter the facility.

All of the inmates and staff were asymptomatic at the time of testing. This is consistent with other correctional systems, which are reporting that 96 percent of inmates who tested positive are asymptomatic.1 Across all inmates and staff, only two inmates at the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center have exhibited symptoms related to COVID-19, and they both are receiving medical attention at a nearby hospital. The facility is currently conducting contact tracing for all staff and inmates. Prior to this round of employee and contractor testing, there were 12 confirmed COVID-19 cases among our staff. All of these employees are self-isolating at home and are in regular communication with their healthcare providers.

The rate of infection at the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center is consistent with or below what is being reported by other correctional systems nationally. For example, more than 70 percent of inmates tested at Federal Bureau of Prisons facilities have received positive results.2

We greatly appreciate our dedicated employees and their public counterparts at TDOC for their heroic efforts to keep those in our care, each other, and our communities safe during these unprecedented times.

Effective immediately, CoreCivic will launch a 24-hour COVID-19 information hotline for family members of incarcerated individuals. The hotline will operate 24/7 and be monitored by a live operator. The hotline can be reached at (615) 263-3200. For the latest information on inmate testing, please visit TDOC's website at www.tn.gov/correction. For detailed information on CoreCivic's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we encourage you to visit our COVID-19 Response tab that we launched on our website. Our media statement can be found here.