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The number of prisoners in statewide quarantine outnumbers virus tests conducted 6 to 1.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Oregon prison inmates and others are worried about the rate of COVID-19 infections in state correctional facilities.On April 23, a prisoner at Oregon State Penitentiary named Michael Kell published an article on Propeller claiming workers were directed to remove biohazard labels from laundry bags coming into the prison laundry from hospitals treating COVID-19 patients. The same day, it was announced that an incarcerated laundry worker tested positive for the virus 200 miles away at Two Rivers Correctional Institution in Umatilla.

Oregon Correctional Enterprises, a semi-independent state agency that operates laundry facilities and other industries within Oregon's prisons, has since closed the laundry at Two Rivers for at least 14 days. According to Oregon Department of Corrections spokesperson Vanessa Vanderzee, the prisoner who tested positive was moved to the infirmary at Snake River Correctional Institution and Health Services is "now working on contact testing."

As of press time, 40 prisoners at Two Rivers are in quarantine and one is in medical isolation, but only six COVID-19 tests have been conducted within the prison, according to ODOC's tally. Two of those tests came back positive, four negative and one is still pending.

There are 168 laundry employees at the facility and an additional 50 prisoners work in the manufacturing and upholstery shops, which are located in the same building and are also shut down, according to the department.

Vanderzee said the prisoner who tested positive worked on what is known as the "clean" side of the laundry facility, where washed linens are processed.

Two women on the outside, each involved with a different prisoner at Two Rivers, reached out separately to contributing reporters to share concerns about how the pandemic is being handled within the prison.

Hly Yang is engaged to a prisoner at Two Rivers with whom she has two children, Jason Ellis.

"I am very worried about him and the many stories he tells me over our emails and letters," Yang told Street Roots. "Jason has told me there are many active Covid-19 cases in his facility."

On Monday, Ellis told Street Roots over the phone from Two Rivers that most prisoners showing COVID-19 symptoms at the prison are being held in solitary confinement units, but since those units have filled up, he said, some are being isolated in their cells.

"These guys come out and use the telephones, get on the video visit kiosk, have video visits, sit at the tables, play poker for 30 to 45 minutes a day, and there is not much sanitation involved after they go back in," Ellis said. He said these prisoners are showing symptoms, and some he said, "look like death."

This Street Roots story is shared as part of a local media project to increase COVID-19 news coverage.


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