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COVID-19 Testing Now Required For Oklahoma Corrections Staff

Oklahoma State Reformatory in Granite, Okla.

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections will now require all of its staff to get tested for COVID-19, a point of conflict between the prison agency and prisoner advocates.

The agency will also give staff a $2 per hour pay increase, meant to compensate staff for the additional danger of working in prisons during the pandemic. The decision to mandate staff testing is a reversal from the Department of Corrections’ original position that it was illegal to require testing – a claim prisoner advocates and Democratic legislators disputed.

Department of Corrections Director Scott Crow said at a news conference Tuesday that the agency received guidelines from the Oklahoma State Department of Health on how to make a mandate legal.

"We now have the framework in place in working with the health department to ensure that we can confidently do that and that’s our plan moving forward," Crow said.

Prison staff are among the most likely ways the novel coronavirus enters prisons.

Crow said he decided to make the change after witnessing large outbreaks of COVID-19 inside prisons. The director said there are currently eight hotspot prisons where at least 15-20% of the population have tested positive for the disease.

The agency is also working with the health department to increase testing among state prisoners.

By early this week, nearly 1,400 prisoners and 63 corrections employees had tested positive for COVID-19. The latest massive outbreak is inside William S. Key Correctional Center in Fort Supply where 784 prisoners and 11 staff have the disease.

So far, three staff members and nine prisoners have died after testing positive for COVID-19.

Quinton Chandler worked at StateImpact Oklahoma from January 2018 to August 2021, focusing on criminal justice reporting.
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