Minnesota Correctional Facility in Shakopee

The Minnesota Correctional Facility in Shakopee.

Seven inmates and seven staff members at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Shakopee have tested positive for COVID-19 and have not yet recovered, according to Nov. 5 testing data made available by the Minnesota Department of Corrections.

The numbers, while still concerning to inmates within the facility, are low compared to other correctional facilities, some of which have had hundreds of confirmed positive COVID-19 cases. 

The total number of positive cases among inmates in Shakopee had steadily remained at eight from August to the beginning of October. However, the week of Oct. 14-20, there were four new cases, and the following week, the total cases climbed to 16.

Nine of those inmates have since recovered, and no new cases have been reported among inmates since the week of Oct. 20-27.

Since the onslaught of the pandemic, 15 staff members have also tested positive, eight of whom have since recovered.

MCF-Shakopee, a women’s correctional facility, currently holds 416 inmates.

Rush City’s correctional facility saw a dramatic spike in cases Oct. 28 through Nov. 3, when positive tests skyrocketed from five to 100. And Stillwater’s correctional facility reported 903 cumulative confirmed positive cases among inmates, 696 of whom had not recovered as of Nov. 5.

The outbreaks have prompted the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee to demand the DOC declare a COVID-19 emergency in the state’s prisons, according to a Nov. 5 press release.

Tyler Winkelman, the co-director of the Health, Homelessness, and Criminal Justice Lab at Hennepin Healthcare Research Institute and a doctor at Hennepin County Jail, told the Valley News in April that when COVID-19 enters Shakopee’s prison, the size of the outbreak would depend on the public health measures already in place.

“If there are large group gatherings still taking place, if folks don’t have access to hand sanitizer, if they aren’t receiving education about covering their cough, it will be a big outbreak,” he said. “If there are strong measures in place already, like minimizing groups, isolating older or more sick patients in different parts of the prison, screening staff… it could be that the scope of coronavirus in facilities could be relatively small.”

A spokesman for the DOC said in April the inmates have access to hand sanitizer, have been given more bars of soap and more hand washing stations have been placed throughout the facility. He said staff members have developed plans to maximize social distancing while maintaining access to programming and supervision.

When someone within the facility tests positive for COVID-19, a spokesman for the DOC said they are placed into segregation.

Any staff member who walks into a correctional facility must first be screened, which involves asking each staff member if they are showing symptoms such as a cough, and taking temperatures.

Maddie DeBilzan graduated with a journalism degree from Bethel University. She’s interned at Salon Media and the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Outside of work, she sifts through Goodwill clothing racks, listens to Ben Rector's music and goes on long runs.