North Dakota prison system feeling impact of omicron variant

January 20, 2022 GMT

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota corrections officials say the state’s prisons have been hit hard by the coronavirus omicron variant.

The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation says active COVID-19 cases total 151, more than double last Friday’s total and infecting about one-tenth of the prison system population. There are three dozen more cases among prison staff.

“We’ve worked hard to prepare for this, and our very high vaccination and booster rates among residents have resulted in very few seriously ill people, and we are not anticipating any hospital admissions at this time,” State Correctional Health Authority Dr. John Hagan said.

Inmates have a choice on whether to get vaccinated for COVID-19. Vaccination rates as of Jan. 13 ranged from about 82% at the Heart River Correctional Center in Mandan to about 90% at the Missouri River Correctional Center in Bismarck, according to corrections data. The rate at the State Penitentiary in Bismarck is about 86%, the Bismarck Tribune reported.

Not all of the new COVID-19 cases are in unvaccinated inmates.

“We are seeing people who are vaccinated receive a positive test; however, the vaccinations are lessening the severity of the cases,” said corrections spokeswoman Kayli Richards. “We have no one seriously ill from COVID, on oxygen, or in the hospital at this time.”

Visitation was suspended Jan. 12 at the State Penitentiary, Friday at the women’s prison in New England, and Wednesday at the Missouri River Correctional Center due to the recent high rate of positive cases.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention North Dakota continues to have one of the worst COVID-19 vaccination rates in the country with about 64% of adults being fully vaccinated and about 57% of those 5 and older.