OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - The Oklahoma Department of Corrections is taking custody of healthy inmates from one county jail that reported it was ill-equipped to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, officials said.
Inmates at the Comanche County Detention Center who have two consecutive negative coronavirus tests began being moved to state facilities on Wednesday, the department said in a statement.
County inmates who have tested positive for the virus remain quarantined at the jail in Lawton, about 80 miles (129 kilometers) southwest of Oklahoma City.
Male inmates were taken to a state facility in Sayre, about 85 miles (140 kilometers) away, while female inmates were taken to McLoud, abut 95 miles (150 kilometers) away, where they will remain until at least June 1.
The state plans to take 180-190 inmates, according to Johnny Owens, chair of the Comanche County Facilities Authority that oversees the jail.
The DOC sent staff to the jail to assist with security and sanitation after more than 100 inmates and 16 staff members at the jail tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.
“We asked for the state’s help,” Owens said Thursday. “Sometimes you don't know the right thing to do, just trust your gut. So I called the ‘higher ups,’" at the DOC.
There has been no word of other county jails seeking state assistance during the pandemic.
“Our Pandemic Planning Guide accounted for the potential need to quarantine a large number of inmates,” DOC Director Scott Crow said in the department's statement late Wednesday. “Due to the agency’s success in preventing any outbreaks, we are able to share resources with our county partners.”
Two state prison inmates have tested positive for the virus, according to Crow.
Gov. Kevin Stitt said wearing face masks in an effort to control the spread of the virus is an individual decision.
“To me that's a personal preference ... if you can remain social distanced we don't think you necessarily need to have a mask, but that's a personal preference,” Stitt said during a Wednesday news conference.
Stitt, who was not wearing a mask, also was unmasked during a visit earlier this month by Arkansas-based Dillard's Department store executives Bill Dillard II and Bill Dillard III to mark the reopening of the store in Oklahoma City May 4.
Both Dillards starting out wearing masks but eventually removed them.
The visit came days after malls, restaurants and other stores were allowed to reopen in line with Stitt’s plans for reopening the state’s economy amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The Oklahoma State Department of Health on Thursday reported the number of confirmed coronavirus cases has surpassed 5,600 and the number of COVID-19 deaths topped 300.
The department said at least 5,680 people have tested positive for the virus and 304 have died, up from 5,532 cases and 299 deaths reported Wednesday.
The actual number of those infected is thought to be much higher because many people haven’t been tested and studies suggest people can have the disease without showing symptoms.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
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