The Tennessee Department of Correction says inmates at the Bledsoe County Correctional Complex west of Pikeville, Tennessee, are recovering from COVID-19 with 580 of the 586 cases confirmed on April 18 completing 14 days of isolation and showing no symptoms.
Of the six remaining positive cases at the facility, two are hospitalized while four are asymptomatic but will remain in isolation, TDOC officials said in a statement issued Thursday. Bledsoe's confirmed case numbers rose to 583 last week as results from mass testing came in.
"While there are a lot of things we still don't know about COVID-19, our facilities are doing everything possible to limit exposure and keep staff and inmates safe and healthy," Commissioner Tony Parker said in the statement.
A Bledsoe prison inmate family member contacted the Times Free Press this week with concerns about the lifting of a lockdown on inmates during the outbreak and lack of social distancing among prisoners.
TDOC spokesman Robert Reburn said in an emailed response to questions about those concerns that the prison "has lifted its facility-wide quarantine."
He said inmates at Bledsoe "have been in isolation and on quarantine after the mass testing on April 18" but that "580 of the offenders who tested positive for COVID-19 have completed the 14-day quarantine and are exhibiting no symptoms, so they are being removed from isolation."
Mass testing of all staff and inmates began May 4 and is continuing throughout the week, officials said in Thursday's statement. Results of the inmate testing will be posted on the department's website at tn.gov/correction.
Correction officials said in the statement that appropriate measures are in place to ensure the safety, health and well-being of inmates as well as staff.
"Those measures follow TDOC guidelines as well as those provided by the Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control," the statement reads. Officials said disinfection and safety measures are ongoing and cloth masks have been distributed.
"Offenders have been encouraged to do all they can to assist in the mitigation of the spread of COVID-19, including good hygiene and sanitation practices as well as social distancing if/when possible," Reburn said in his response.
Because prisoners count in the county where the prison is located, Bledsoe had one of the highest COVID-19 confirmed case counts among counties in Tennessee and the New York Times' late-April map and case count placed Bledsoe County at the number two "hot-spot" in the U.S. in terms of confirmed cases as a percentage of 100,000 in population. That rate for Bledsoe County, which has a population of about 15,000, is 4,027 per 100,000.
Correction officials suggest members of the public visit TDOC's website for frequently asked questions related to COVID-19 as it relates to the prison system.
Contact Ben Benton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton or at www.facebook.com/benbenton1.