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Staff photo by Tim Barber/Chattanooga Times Free Press - Dec 4, 2012 - A corrections guard stands on the yard at the new $208 million Bledsoe County Correctional Complex Monday.

Tennessee Department of Correction records show that Bledsoe County Correctional Complex in Pikeville, Tennessee, now has a total of 345 confirmed cases of COVID-19 after testing 2,335 inmates.

That brings the total across all Tennessee prisons to 384 confirmed cases of the disease, records show. Meanwhile, 970 Bledsoe inmates tested negative and 1,020 test results from Bledsoe are pending, out of 1,214 tests still pending statewide.

"[The Tennessee Department of Correction] has put extensive protocols in place to address those who present with symptoms, which will include immediate quarantine and isolation," department spokesman Robert Reburn wrote in an email response to the outbreak at the prison.

"We've also formalized a schedule to ensure cleaning and disinfection of high touch areas multiple times per day" that includes use of a bleach solution or other coronavirus-effective germicide, Reburn said.

The schedule consists of cleaning efforts focusing on high-touch areas and shared work-spaces at shift change, and items such as toilet seats, light switches, door handles, handrails, phones, elevator buttons, hand-held radios, security keys/chits, ID badges and writing utensils, Reburn listed in his reply.

The Department of Correction started weighing inmate testing after 19 staffers and contractors tested positive earlier this month. Ten of those staffers were from Bledsoe, and they were asymptomatic.

The department launched a third round of mass testing at three state prisons after 150 out of 424 inmates tested positive at Bledsoe, bringing the total there by Monday to 162, the Times Free Press previously reported.

On Monday, Department of Correction officials said testing began Sunday for an additional 3,100 inmates at Bledsoe County, the Northwest Correctional Complex in Tiptonville and the Turney Center Industrial Complex in Only, which is located in Hickman County.

Records show Turney Center now has 20 confirmed cases out of 273 inmates tested, with 67 test results still pending, and Northwest now has 16 confirmed cases out of 588 tested, with 101 results still pending.

There is also one confirmed case at Turney Center's Annex and there are two at Trousdale Turner Correctional Center, records show.

The three prisons with the most cases tested the most inmates, with Bledsoe testing 2,335 of the 3,260 inmates tested statewide so far.

Reburn said all staff and inmates at Bledsoe have been provided with cloth masks.

A doctor and at least one nurse left their jobs at Bledsoe in the first week of April after being told they couldn't wear masks when around inmates who hadn't tested positive for the virus, even though there had been no widespread inmate testing.

Their departure followed an April 1 state correction department news release that reported three inmates at the prison in Bledsoe were possibly exposed to a non-state employee who tested positive for COVID-19. At that time, Department of Correction officials said the inmates were quarantined and had not shown symptoms as of that day.

In March, more than three dozen groups and individuals, including Metro Nashville's former public defender, filed an emergency petition urging Tennessee Supreme Court justices to reduce COVID-19 health risks in state prisons, local jails and juvenile detention centers by releasing prisoners they say represent low risks.

Reburn said Thursday that a total of 35 state prison staff members have now tested positive for the coronavirus, but he didn't have a breakdown showing whether any were medical staff members.

However, there is a statewide race/ethnicity breakdown on inmates tested so far.

Records show that of 3,260 inmates tested across the state, 2,126 were white, 1,019 were black, 51 were Hispanic, eight were Asian, six were Pacific Islander and 50 others' race or ethnicity was unavailable.

Contact Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton or at www.facebook.com/benbenton1.

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Staff photo by Tim Barber/Chattanooga Times Free Press - Dec 4, 2012 - The Corrections Emergency Response Team stands at ease Monday outside the $208 million Bledsoe County Correctional Complex. Inmates will begin occupying the complex in January 2013.
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