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141 COVID-19 cases linked to Oregon's largest prison

The outbreak at Snake River Correctional Institution accounts for nearly one-third of the total known coronavirus cases in Malheur County.
Credit: KGW
141 COVID-19 cases linked to Snake River Correctional Institution as of July 13, 2020

PORTLAND, Ore. — A COVID-19 outbreak connected to a prison in Eastern Oregon’s Malheur County has left at least 141 people sick, the Oregon Department of Corrections (DOC) said on Monday.

The outbreak is at Snake River Correctional Institution, which is located in Ontario and is the state's largest prison. The prison holds 3,000 beds, according to the DOC. 

Of the 141 people who have tested positive so far, 120 are inmates and 21 are staff members, the DOC said. A spokesperson for the DOC said the numbers are constantly changing and the prison agency is continuing to receive test results. 

The Oregon Health Authority began an investigation into the outbreak on June 24. There were only six cases connected to the outbreak just a week ago.

Malheur County reported 71 new coronavirus cases on Sunday, the most of any Oregon county, and 27 new cases on Monday. The county said it has been experiencing "significant delays" in getting results back from drive-up testing. According to the county, there has been a total of 434 known cases so far, meaning the outbreak at the prison accounts for nearly one-third of the cases in the county.

It’s not the first time a state prison has been linked to a large coronavirus outbreak. The largest workplace outbreak in the state has been at the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem, where 141 inmates and 36 staff have tested positive for the virus.

RELATED: 48 active COVID-19 workplace outbreaks in Oregon

Smaller outbreaks have also been reported at two other correctional institutions. As of Tuesday, 11 staff and four inmates at Two Rivers Correctional Institution in Umatilla County tested positive for COVID-19. As of July 10, five staff members and one youth had tested positive at MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility in Marion County.

The outbreaks highlight the challenge of containing COVID-19 in a prison setting. On June 25, Gov. Brown announced 57 people who were deemed medically vulnerable to COVID-19 would have their prison sentences commuted. Some Democratic lawmakers last month asked the governor to consider releasing close to 2,000 of Oregon’s nearly 15,000 inmates.

RELATED: Gov. Brown to commute sentences of 57 Oregon inmates vulnerable to COVID-19

The number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise across Oregon. According to Brown, Oregon reported more cases last week than in the entire month of May. The last time Oregon had less than 100 cases in a single day was more than a month ago.

In an effort to slow the spread of the virus, Brown on Monday announced a ban on indoor gatherings of more than 10 people. The new rule does not apply to businesses. Also, the governor announced starting Wednesday, July 15, face masks will be required outside if people can’t keep a distance of more than 6 feet away from others.

RELATED: Oregon bans indoor gatherings of more than 10 people, requires face masks in outdoor crowds

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