JEFFERSON CITY — As inmates continue to die of complications from COVID-19, Missouri prison officials announced new steps to control the spread of the deadly disease within the sprawling system.
The Missouri Department of Corrections said Tuesday it was installing 1,468 air-purifying devices in all 20 prisons.
The machines, which officials say will destroy 99.4% of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 within 30 minutes, will also be placed in community supervision centers, the Transition Center in St. Louis and other state-owned facilities.
Corrections spokeswoman Karen Pojmann said the department also is acquiring 40 disinfectant sprayers designed to cover surfaces with a disinfecting mist.
The total cost of the purchases is $1.2 million. The state is using federal stimulus dollars to pay for the equipment.
“The added benefit of these technologies is that the air purifier and vital oxide sprayer kill other pathogens in addition to COVID, which will help us to keep people healthier during cold and flu season,” Pojmann said.
In addition to the disinfectant and air purifiers, the department has been monitoring sewage from the prisons since July in order to determine if infections may be starting.
The virus has claimed the lives of at least 36 inmates and four employees, according to the department.
The tally comes after the state’s prison system was relatively unscathed by virus-related deaths in the initial months of the pandemic.
In mid-June, for example, the agency was reporting just one inmate death and no staff deaths. The total number of inmate cases at that time was 59.
But, as the number of positive tests has spiked throughout Missouri, the virus made its way behind bars.
Nine of the inmate deaths have come within the last two weeks.
Outbreaks have occurred at a number of facilities since March. Currently, the most active cases are at the Fulton prison, which has 209 cases.
The prison in St. Joseph currently has 81 active cases of COVID-19.
The two prisons hit worst by outbreaks are in Farmington and Bonne Terre, with each having more than 426 inmates who have recovered from the disease.
Overall, there currently are 455 inmates and 129 employees with active cases.
Gov. Mike Parson has rejected calls to launch an early release program for elderly or at-risk offenders in order to ease the chances of inmates becoming ill.
But lawmakers could debate a proposal next year by Rep. Tom Hannegan, R-St. Charles, that would allow for a small group of elderly, nonviolent prisoners to get hearings for early release if they’ve served at least 30 years.
Of the inmates who have died from complications related to COVID-19, at least 20 were older than 63
Hannegan said earlier that the pandemic could factor in when lawmakers consider the legislation.