Coronavirus Daily Briefing: State officials discuss prison operations, use of masks

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During Gov. Tim Walz's daily media briefing on COVID-19, the state's commissioner for the Department of Corrections explained measures being put in place in Minnesota's prisons during the pandemic. 

DOC Commissioner Paul Schnell said wardens at each DOC location in Minnesota have implemented stay with unit plans. According to Schnell, these plans are similar to Walz's stay at home order, allowing for social distancing inside of prison units. 

Schnell added it allows staff to prepare for the possibility of a serious outbreak to occur in the state's prisons. 

The commissioner said the department is also looking to quarantine those prisoners with underlying medical conditions, as well as placing prisoners serving non-violent sentences into the DOC's work-release program. 

"Accountability for the violations of our laws and the harm caused to others are important criminal justice objectives," Schnell said. "But we take seriously our responsibility to rehabilitate, and for that reason we have taken the steps we have taken." 

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In regard to numbers of COVID-19 cases in the state's prisons, Schnell said there are currently seven confirmed positive cases and 12 presumptive cases in the Minnesota Department of Corrections-Moose Lake facility. There is also one staff member who is presumed positive. At the Minnesota Department of Corrections-Red Wing facility, two staff members have tested positive for COVID-19. 

As conversations regarding wearing masks in public continue, Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) Commissioner Jan Malcolm told residents that wearing masks can help protect others if the person wearing it is ill. The commissioner said masks help catch respiratory droplets that could spread the virus. 

Later in the day, President Trump announced that the CDC is recommending the public wear cloth masks and leave the dwindling supply of medical-grade masks to health care workers. 

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However, Malcolm urged that residents not to wear medical grade or surgical masks. 

"These supplies are in high demand in health care facilities and among first responders to protect those workers," Malcolm said. 

She added that those who choose to wear masks should continue to practice social distancing. 

Earlier in the day, Walz unveiled a new state website that tracks the virus in the state and provides the latest data on available ventilators, ICU beds, personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing. 

The dashboard will be updated daily and is available on the state's website.

As of Friday, MDH reported 789 total COVID-19 cases in Minnesota with 22 deaths. That's out of 24,227 samples tested. Of the total, 156 cases have required hospitalization and 75 remained hospitalized Tuesday, with 38 in the ICU. MDH reported 410 patients no longer need to be isolated.

According to the Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering, the virus has infected over 1 million people worldwide and killed about 58,000. More than 225,400 people have recovered so far.