Illinois Department of Corrections halts county transfers after COVID-19 outbreaks

IL prison inmates better protected against COVID than staff, data shows

ByChuck Goudie and Barb Markoff, Christine Tressel and Ross Weidner WLS logo
Wednesday, January 12, 2022
IDOC halts county transfers after COVID-19 outbreaks
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The surge in COVID-19 cases behind bars across Illinois is now triggering action from the Illinois Department of Corrections.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The surge in COVID-19 cases behind bars across Illinois is now triggering state action: Illinois Department of Corrections officials are temporarily putting a halt to prisoner transfers from county jails into the state prison system.

As Illinois state officials implement this freeze, a new piece of data comes into focus: the state prison inmate population across Illinois is better protected against COVID than the staff that guards them.

Data from the Illinois Department of Corrections reveals that 75% of the incarcerated population statewide has been vaccinated while 66% of state prison staff has been vaccinated against COVID-19.

At the maximum security Stateville Correctional Center in Joliet the vaccination gap is even wider. 85% of individuals in custody at Stateville have been vaccinated but only 67% of the prison staff has received COVID vaccines.

Currently in Illinois state prisons, IDOC data reveals that 1684 offenders and 1042 staff are COVID positive.

At the Cook County jail, two months ago, 38 prisoners and 30 staff were COVID positive. One month later the total had tripled. Tuesday night, the number of prisoners and staff COVID positive is 769, 342 detainees and 427 employees -- greater than eleven times where it was in early November.

"The Cook County Jail has just been doing a really really good job with everything related to COVID. They have a lot of folks who are coming in to the jail now who are positive for COVID," said Dr. Allison Arwady, CDPH Commissioner. "They've been working to really increase the ability to make sure that those folks are isolated and get the care they need et cetera to not have further spread within the jail."

Cook County Jail officials tell the I-Team "approximately 53% of the 342 individuals who are positive in the jail tested positive during the intake procedure, meaning they contracted the virus in the community. Those individuals were immediately medically isolated to minimize the spread of the virus." They say on January 7, 2022 they "reached a high of 433 individuals in custody with positive" but that the numbers have decreased since that peak.

Tuesday, across the federal prison system in America, 4,377 inmates and 928 Bureau of Prisons employees are currently COVID positive. According to the latest figures from the state of Illinois, there are more state prison workers here with COVID than in the entire federal prison system coast-to-coast.

Statement from IDOC Public Information Officer Lindsey Hess:

Since March 2020, the Illinois Department of Corrections' top medical and operations personnel have been working diligently to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 within our facilities. What we have found over the course of the pandemic is that the number of COVID-19 cases within IDOC is reflective of the situation in the community.

To help combat the challenge of infection control within our congregate living facilities, all staff and individuals in custody are temperature checked, masked, symptom screened and routinely tested. In addition, 75% of the incarcerated population and 66% of staff are vaccinated against COVID-19. Additionally, thousands of individuals in custody and staff have taken advantage of multiple opportunities to receive a booster shot. Opportunities to receive the vaccine or booster are available on-site. Facilities with confirmed cases of COVID-19 are placed on medical quarantine with restricted movement depending on the scope and place of the outbreak. At that time, IDOC's medical and operations teams determine whether it is safe to permit visitors and temporarily suspend visitation when appropriate. IDOC's statewide command center and 18 correctional facility command centers, including Stateville and Hill, are activated. Using FEMA's incident command system, staff working in command centers are responding to outbreaks by overseeing masking, temperature and symptom screening, testing, quarantines, vaccinations, and boosters.

Protecting the health and safety of staff, individuals in custody, and the community remains the Department's top priority. We are working closely with the Illinois Department of Public Health, infectious disease consultants, and correctional agencies across the nation to ensure best practices and keep individuals in custody healthy and safe.

Full Cook County Jail statement:

As we have seen since the beginning of the pandemic, a rise in COVID cases rise in the community is followed by a rise in new cases at Cook County Jail, which has no choice but to house individuals court-ordered into custody regardless of their COVID status. Currently, approximately 53 percent of the 342 individuals who are positive in the jail tested positive during the intake procedure, meaning they contracted the virus in the community. Those individuals were immediately medically isolated to minimize the spread of the virus.

On Jan. 7, 2022, we reached a high of 433 individuals in custody with positive covid cases. Since then, the numbers of individuals positive for COVID have decreased.

The Jail and its medical partner, Cermak Health Services, continue to utilize aggressive testing and quarantine procedures to identify any potential cases and minimize spread at the jail, where nearly 118,000 tests - or an average of almost 5,600 tests per month - have been administered to detained persons at the jail since the beginning of the pandemic.

As part of the Office's comprehensive prevention efforts, vaccination - including the booster shot - is repeatedly offered and encouraged among staff and those ordered to custody. Since the vaccine was first made available in the jail early last year, educational videos explaining the benefits of the vaccine have been aired daily throughout the jail, as well as videos from Rev. Jesse Jackson, the Chicago White Sox, the Chicago Bears, and Cermak Health Services. Written materials are posted in in each tier, and Cermak staff routinely encourage and educate detained individuals who have not yet been vaccinated to get the vaccine. As of today, approximately 80 percent of active-duty Sheriff's Office staff, one of the highest in the country, and 70 percent of eligible individuals in custody have received the vaccine.

Security and medical professionals at the Cook County Jail have worked tirelessly since the beginning of the pandemic to curb transmission of this highly contagious virus, and their efforts - which include social distancing, masking enforcement, extensive testing, effective quarantine practices and compassionate treatment - have been pointed to as a model for other correctional facilities by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ( A study conducted by Yale and Stanford ( found that the interventions utilized at the jail likely prevented 34 deaths, 435 hospitalizations, and more than three thousand new positive cases in just the first 83 days of the initial stages of the pandemic. Fortunately, a growing body of research and analysis suggests that while the Omicron variant responsible for the recent spike in cases counts around the world is incredibly contagious, it may produce less severe symptoms than earlier variants.

Full Board of Prisons statement:

We are pleased to provide you with the following information about how we are managing all our institutions, including the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) Chicago, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has worked closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on creating and updating guidance for mitigating the impact of COVID-19 in correctional institutions. The BOP has been monitoring key benchmarks and recognizes the need to adjust restrictions to increase access to vital services and programming needs, as well as to take appropriate steps to normalize operations as safety and security permit.

In accordance with published CDC guidance on COVID-19 mitigation in correctional institutions, the BOP has implemented a flexible and tiered approach for modified operations. This Modified Operations Plan addresses a range of key areas including infection control measures, inmate services and programing needs, inmate movement strategies, staff screening and testing guidance, and is localized based on current conditions within each facility and surrounding community. The three indicators that determine the level of modified operations at each facility are the medical isolation rate within the institution (active cases), the facility vaccination rates (includes staff and inmates), and community transmission rates in the surrounding communities. The BOP's current COVID-19 pandemic plan will be utilized within this modified operational plan as needed.

The Modified Operational Level is monitored daily with final authority rendered by the Warden of each respective location. Modified Operational Levels are categorized as follows: Level 1 Operations-Minimal Modifications, Level 2 Operations- Moderate Modifications, and Level 3 Operations-Intense Modifications. With each increase or decrease in the operations level at a particular facility, various COVID-19 mitigation strategies will be implemented or reduced. These strategies are similar to those implemented in surrounding communities where guidance regarding the use of facial coverings, social distancing, and limiting capacities or restricting access to certain areas were utilized. The goal of the Modified Operations Plan is to formalize a standardized response to real-time COVID-19 data which maximizes inmate access to programming and reentry needs, while proactively enhancing inmate and staff safety focused on COVID-19 mitigation efforts.

For more information on our BOP COVID-19 Operational Levels, please see our public website found here

COVID-19 transmission rates among staff and inmates in the BOP's correctional institutions generally mirror those found in local communities. The BOP is using critical testing tools to help mitigate the spread of the virus and continues to provide testing for COVID-19 symptomatic inmates, as well as mass testing or serial testing when indicated, as recommended by the CDC.

The bulk of our testing conducted by the BOP is rRT-PCR testing through commercial labs. However, MCC Chicago is also utilizing the Abbott ID NOW instrument for Rapid RNA testing. Test results are typically received within 10-15 minutes.

While a prison setting is unique when addressing a pandemic, the care and treatment of an identified positive COVID-19 case is not. The BOP follows CDC guidance, the same as community doctors and hospitals, with regard to quarantine and medical isolation procedures, along with providing appropriate treatment. The majority of inmates who tested positive for COVID-19 are asymptomatic (positive with no symptoms) and do not require the level of care offered in a hospital setting.

All inmates who are positive for COVID-19, or symptomatic, are medically isolated and provided medical care until they are considered recovered by medical staff as determined by CDC guidelines listed at: All institutions, to include MCC Chicago, have areas identified for quarantine and medical isolation. Inmates are treated at the institution unless medical staff determine they require hospitalization.

MCC Chicago has an ample number of trained medical personnel who provide essential medical, dental, and mental health (psychiatric) services in a manner consistent with accepted community clinical guidelines for a correctional environment. MCC Chicago uses licensed and credentialed, professional health care providers to practice evidence-based medicine. All inmates have daily and regular access to medical care and appointments, and medical staff conduct daily rounds throughout each facility. Each patient is independently treated on a case-by-case basis, and treatment is provided as clinically indicated. All inmates are managed per CDC guidelines.

The BOP currently offers all three COVID-19 vaccines authorized for use in the US and is following CDC guidance, to include both 3rd doses for immunocompromised persons, as well as booster doses for those meeting the times frames specified by the CDC (at least 6 months between primary and booster doses for mRNA vaccines, and at least 2 months for Johnson and Johnson).

We report a substantial amount of statistical information on our public website daily. Given the fluid nature of the pandemic, we are only providing the accumulative number of total doses administered as found on our Coronavirus resource page here, and are not breaking this number down to reflect booster shots. If you click the blue link "Learn more about vaccinations and view individual facility stats +" under the COVID-19 Vaccine Implementation heading, you will find the total number of completed staff and inmate vaccinations under the subheadings "Full Staff Inoculations Completed" and "Full Inmate Inoculations Completed." A full inoculation means the second dose of a scheduled two-dose vaccine, or a single dose of a scheduled one-dose vaccine, has been administered.

For more information about COVID-19, to include the BOP's COVID-19 Action Plan, the number of inmates tested, the number of open, positive test, COVID-19 cases for staff and inmates, and the official number of COVID-19 related deaths, please visit the BOP's Coronavirus resource page on our public website here Scroll down to the "Full Breakdown and Additional Details" link under the "COVID-19 Cases" heading for the number of cases at each institution.

Due to the rapidly evolving nature of this public health crisis, the BOP will update the open COVID-19 confirmed-positive test numbers, the number of COVID-19 tests conducted, and the number of COVID-19 related deaths every weekday at 3:00 p.m. The positive test numbers are based on the most recently available confirmed results involving open cases from across the agency as reported by the BOP's Office of Occupational Health and Safety. The number of open positive test cases only reflects current cases that have not been resolved. The total number of open, positive test, COVID-19 cases fluctuates up and down as new cases are added and resolved cases are removed.

For more information about MCC Chicago, please see their public website here