Crawford County COVID-19 positives surge with nearly 300 inmate cases at correctional institution

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The Prairie du Chien Correctional Institution reported 283 active cases of COVID-19 Tuesday among its inmates, plus 65 among its staff (living in multiple counties). The Tuesday Crawford County positive case count jumped from 862 to 1,158, which also includes other county residents aside from inmates.

By Correne Martin


Crawford County’s total positive cases had a significant increase Tuesday due to the Prairie du Chien Correctional Institution’s recent mass testing for inmates and staff. 

The Crawford County Health Department has worked with the institution in releasing these statistics, showing a total of 300 cases of COVID-19 among inmates at the correctional facility. Furthermore, 65 staff members reportedly tested positive for COVID-19. These staff are included in the numbers for each county in which they live.

“There are currently 283 active cases (among inmates),” stated John Beard, director of communications, Wisconsin Department of Corrections Office of Public Affairs/Office of the Secretary. He noted that the 300 reported cases include 17 positives that were recorded prior to this outbreak, occurring as far back as the beginning of the pandemic in March.

According to the latest population report on the DOC website from Nov. 20, there are 502 inmates housed at the Prairie du Chien site. Beard estimated there are roughly 200 staff members at the facility.

The data represents the latest testing and case information among those in the DOC’s care in Prairie du Chien, and it is expected to be updated at 4 p.m. each weekday, aside from legal holidays.

In a press release Tuesday about the outbreak, the DOC said it “remains committed to maintaining transparency throughout the duration of the public health emergency, to keep the public informed about the health and well-being of those who live and work in our facilities.” 

When asked about the determination behind the elevated number of cases at PdCCI, Beard had no specific answer. He said, as of Nov. 3, there were essentially no cases. Yet, over a period of days, several inmates began exhibiting symptoms and tested positive. This resulted in the DOC requesting the Wisconsin National Guard to do mass testing at the institution Nov. 18. The positive tests returned and were added to the totals in Crawford County, because, according to Public Health Officer Cindy Riniker, inmates live here, so they are considered in the county numbers.

Beard also explained that all DOC institutions put extra cleaning protocols in place in the spring and that adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) has not been an issue. 

“All persons in our care are provided three double-ply, cotton face coverings and are required to wear them in common areas,” he said. “Staff are required to wear masks inside DOC institutions, except when eating, drinking or working alone in an enclosed space.”

He added that the DOC continues emphasizing to staff and inmates the effectiveness of wearing face coverings and the importance of proper hand washing.

Beard also addressed staffing, considering this spike in coronavirus positives. He said employees are not asked to work if they test positive. Per state DHS guidance however, some staff can still work if they are exposed—if shortages in their job classifications (health services and security) would pose a risk to health or safety of the institution, staff, inmates or the community. This is decided on a case-by-case basis, he said.

The Wisconsin Department of Corrections has established a public support line for questions related to COVID-19. The call center can be reached by members of the public Monday through Friday from 7:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at (608) 240-5700. 

Riniker praised the correctional institution about its transparency. “The prison has been very open with [public health] and easy to work with,” she said.

Additional information can be found at the DOC’s COVID-19 dashboard:

There, a map shows other outbreaks at correctional institutions around Wisconsin, as of Nov. 24. 

Also in southwest Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Secure Program Facility in Boscobel has not had an outbreak, with only one positive test among its 454 inmates. According to DOC population numbers, the WSPF is operating at about 50 inmates under its capacity. 

The trend, however, seems to show significant numbers of positive cases at correctional institutions statewide, particularly at those facilities that are over-capacity.

In Prairie du Chien, the 502 inmates are living in a facility designed for a capacity of 326.

At the largest Wisconsin facility, the Oshkosh medium security site, there were 949 positives, out of 1,881 inmates, according to the population chart. At other medium security sites, Kettle Morraine reported 872 positives, out of 1,076 inmates; Racine had 857 positives, out of 1,579 inmates; and Fox Lake had 450, out of 1,271 inmates. 

At maximum security facilities, Waupun reported 716 positives, out of 1,152 inmates; Dodge had 654 positives, out of 1,469; and Columbia had 274 positives, out of 750 inmates.

From minimum to maximum correctional sites in Wisconsin, 12 of the 18 locations are operating with a greater number of inmates than the facilities were designed to hold.

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