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Increase prison testing

Prisons, as well as nursing homes, are high-hazard sites for COVID-19.

Belmont County has become a hotspot for the coronavirus, with 107 cases by Sunday. County Health Deputy Director Robert Sproul said many of the cases are in nursing homes — and a prison.

Thiry-one inmates at the Belmont Correctional Institution, near St. Clairsville, have tested positive for COVID-19.

He added that, “The (inmates) we’re hearing about are the ones supposedly being released …” That strategy, of letting some nonviolent inmates out of custody, has been employed at the local, state and federal levels in attempts to battle COVID-19 in jails and prisons.

In Ohio, officials have ordered that inmates to be released must be tested for the coronavirus. What that may mean is that more than 31 BCI inmates have been infected.

We have suggested previously that nursing homes and other long-term care facilities should be subjected to saturated testing for the virus. In both Ohio and West Virginia, many of those killed by COVID-19 have been nursing home residents.

Such comprehensive testing probably is a good idea for correctional facilities, too, if it is not under way already.

Many state and federal inmates have paid dearly for that. At last report, six state prison inmates had died from COVID-19. Three-fourths of those at the Marion Correctional Facility in north-central Ohio had tested positive for the virus. Three inmates at the federal prison near Lisbon have perished from the disease.

No one in America seemed ready for COVID-19. That was foolish and irresponsible, given the warnings we have heard for years about the potential for an epidemic here.

Much of the reaction seems to have been crafted on the fly, as circumstances dictated.

Those convicted of crimes are a unique concern. In some cases, simply releasing them to safeguard them from COVID-19 would put the public at risk. But there must be a better way than has been evident to date of protecting them. It needs to be devised before the next pandemic strikes.

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