Dangerous situation involving COVID-19 infected inmates from Stateville Correctional Center, the governor is trying to tackle the problem.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Governor JB Pritzker had some harsh words during his Tuesday press conference for hospitals who may have turned away sick state prison inmates.

"Hospitals that refuse to take on residents of the Department of Corrections will be called out by name, and those that refuse to operate in accordance to their oath can and will be compelled to do so by law," Pritzker said.

A day after the I-Team uncovered a dangerous and deteriorating situation involving COVID-19 infected inmates from Stateville Correctional Center in south suburban Crest Hill, the governor is trying to tackle the problem.

RELATED: Illinois prisoners sick with COVID-19 "overwhelm" Joliet hospital

State prisons and local jails are among the worst places to control in a viral pandemic.

Authorities across Illinois are working to prevent the spread both inside and the outside the state's facilities.

St. Joseph hospital medical director Dr. John Walsh told the I-Team Monday night he was faced with a disaster. Walsh was suddenly treating 17 inmates with coronavirus from nearby Stateville prison. Nine needed ventilators.

After some facilities may have diverted inmates to other hospitals, Governor Pritzker made this declaration:

"An incarcerated person is a person. And my administration will not be in the business of claiming one life is worth more than another," Pritzker said.

There are new state efforts to deal with the spreading virus behind bars; including releasing additional non-violent prisoners from state facilities. Three hundred were released Tuesday afternoon.

"There clearly is no playbook for a correctional setting during a pandemic," Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart told the I-Team.

Sheriff Dart has tents pitched in the Cook County Jail yard. The make-shift housing is now home to 56 prisoners who have tested positive but do not need hospitalization. Inside the jail, they are now close to having one prisoner per cell to help slow the spread of the virus.

"The single cell is just the next iteration of keeping people separate, but then within their living unit keeping them in different tables when they eat dinner," Dart said.

Alann Vega, an inmate doing 35 years for murder at Stateville wrote a letter describing the outbreak that began two weeks ago.

In the letter, Vega said the prison environment was a "perfect vehicle to spread the virus from one resident to another."



State Corrections officials did not respond to requests for comment regarding Vega's letter or allegations from inmates that prison sanitation has been lax Tuesday.

"All correctional facilities and transport vehicles are being routinely cleaned and disinfected," IDOC said in a generic statement.

The I-Team asked Illinois Department of Corrections officials for specific responses to the inmate's letter and the situation at St. Joseph's Medical Center in Joliet.
Below is what the IDOC provided:

Our response to COVID-19 continues to be deliberate and aggressive. We are taking vigorous steps to protect our staff and men and women in custody from this disease, including thoroughly reviewing those who are eligible for early release, appropriately quarantining or isolating men and women in custody, and equipping staff with personal protective equipment. Our top medical and security personnel are stationed at our statewide command post resolutely working to prevent the spread of COVID-19 within our facilities. We continue to work closely with the Illinois Department of Public Health and Illinois Emergency Management Agency to ensure we are following all guidelines put forth by the Centers for Disease Control.

The Department has taken a number of steps to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, including, but not limited to:

On March 20, all correctional facilities statewide were placed on Administrative Quarantine with restricted movement.
On March 14, the Department suspended visitation at all correctional facilities.
Facilities with confirmed cases of COVID-19 are being placed on lockdown with only emergency medical movement.
We are working with the Governor's Office and Prisoner Review Board to review individuals who are eligible for early release.
The Department modified its Pandemic Influenza and Continuity of Operations plans.
Hand sanitizer, antibacterial soap, and cleaning supplies are being made available to all staff and incarcerated individuals. We are closely monitoring our supply levels at each facility and are in close communication with our vendors to maintain adequate inventory.
All staff are being screened and having their temperature checked at arrival to their correctional facility.
All interagency transports have been suspended with the exception of medical and mental health appointments, and emergency transfers.
Per Governor Pritzker's executive order, all county jail intakes have been suspended.
All correctional facilities and transport vehicles are being routinely cleaned and disinfected.
Staff and incarcerated individuals are being encouraged to practice good health habits, including hand-washing.
We are communicating regularly with staff and people in custody to ensure they feel safe.

As of 5 p.m. on Tuesday, 141 detainees have tested positive, according to Cook County officials.

Additionally, 25 Sheriff's Office staff have tested positive.

Cermak Health Services staff said in a statement that they are closely monitoring the detainees on the living units where these individuals were housed and will test any detainees who are symptomatic.
Copyright © 2020 WLS-TV. All Rights Reserved.