ORIENT — On Monday, May 18, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced during a regularly-scheduled press conference that a staff member working at the Correctional Reception Center has passed away due to coronavirus (COVID-19).

This past Monday afternoon, Gov. DeWine took time to acknowledge the recent passing of nurse Bernard Atta, who worked at the CRC located in the Village of Orient in Pickaway County.

“It is with great sadness and a heavy heart to confirm the passing of nurse Bernard Atta of the CRC,” ODRC spokesperson JoEllen Smith told The Circleville Herald. “The warden was notified of his passing (Sunday) evening.”

Smith added Atta’s passing was a result of complications linked to COVID-19. The 61-year-old from Galena was first hired at the facility in Orient on Dec. 17, 2012.

Atta is the most recent facility staff member to pass away due to COVID-19, totaling up to three staff member deaths. Another member, Tina Reeves, working at the Pickaway Correctional Institution, also in Orient, lost her life in late April.

“Her passing was due to complications associated with COVID-19,” Smith said.

Reeves was first hired in March 6, 2006 and was a resident of Blacklick. Prior, another staff member also passed away from coronavirus-related issues, which occurred in early April, sparking the state governor to reallocate resources to assist Ohio’s prison population and staff members.

On April 30, Gov. DeWine announced that the state provided more that 1.1 million pieces of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) facilities. The move was in response to an ever-growing case volume for both staff and inmates.

The reallocation of PPE included 108,000 N95 masks, 256,000 gloves, 684,000 procedure masks, 10,000 provider gowns along with 100,000 cloth masks designated for inmates.

During that same time, ODRC Director Annette Chambers Smith updated Ohioans that some facilities underwent mass testing revealing much needed insight into how many cases are in facilities.

Mass testing was conducted at the Marion Correctional Institution, the prison medical center in Columbus, as well as the Pickaway Correctional Institution. Approximately 96 percent of the inmate population tested positive for COVID-19 and were asymptomatic at the Marion facility.

Last Monday, the ODRC director, invited via video conference, took time to update Ohioans again regarding how the department is now handling the outbreak in facilities. She commented that while ODRC has taken steps to ensure testing for all inmates, it is still not enough to encapsulate the real issues occurring at ODRC facilities.

“The next evolution we took was to mass test, and we did that at three facilities, we thought we would find asymptomatic people… that we could move elsewhere… but we found that testing is just a point in time,” Chambers Smith stated. “It doesn’t really tell you about people who have incubated and they don’t have enough viral load to make a positive and it doesn’t really help you if you find out that 96 percent of your positive people are asymptomatic.”

The ODRC director added that Ohio Department of Health Director Amy Acton was correct in repeatedly saying that community spread will become so quick that testing will not become a viable option anymore.

“While thankfully we did not get into that situation in state of Ohio, we have gotten into that situation in the (ODRC),” Chambers Smith said. “What should we be doing? Well, we should be treating people and that is what we are doing.”

On May 18, ODRC updated its confirmed COVID-19 cases in nearly 30 facilities throughout the state.

According to the ODRC, via coronavirus.ohio.gov, approximately 8,003 inmates have been tested with 14 still pending. From the tests, a total of 4,526 have tested positive and 3,463 have tested negative.

For staff members, ODRC reported that 593 staff members have tested positive. Additionally 362 individuals have recovered from the illness and three have passed away.

At the Pickaway Correctional Institution, a total of 504 inmates have been placed in quarantine with another 40 in isolation. Those in isolation have tested positive for COVID-19. The facility has reported that there have been two probable deaths related to COVID-19 and another 34 have been confirmed deaths. The institution in Orient also recorded that 1,592 inmates have recovered from the illness.

At the CRC, a total of 1,459 inmates have been placed in quarantine. Another 11 inmates have been placed in isolation due to positive tests. A total of 71 inmates have recovered from the illness.

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