2 US senators and US representative call for immediate testing at Pekin Federal Correctional Institute

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PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — U.S. Representative Cheri Bustos (D-IL-17) and U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) are calling for all staff and inmates to immediately be tested for COVID-19 at Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) Pekin after an outbreak of more than 75 cases was confirmed at the prison.

In a letter to Bureau of Prisons Director Michael Carvajal and Warden Frederick Entzel, the lawmakers urged FCI Pekin to test all staff and inmates in order to find asymptomatic cases and prevent further spread of the virus.

The letter notes that testing is necessary to help protect those living and working at the facility, as well as the community at large. Dense living and working conditions within correctional facilities can lead to rapid and widespread transmission of COVID-19.

The full letter can be read here:

Dear Director Carvajal and Warden Entzel:

We write to urgently request that the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) immediately provide on-site COVID-19 testing for all staff and inmates at Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) Pekin. 

Currently, at least three staff members and 74 inmates reportedly have tested positive for COVID-19 in four units at FCI Pekin. In addition, more staff and inmates are in quarantine while awaiting test results. While we appreciate the work of FCI Pekin to test those known to have been exposed to COVID-19, more testing is urgently needed to find asymptomatic cases, prevent the spread of the virus in this densely populated facility and protect the local community.

As you know, individuals with COVID-19 can spread the virus without presenting symptoms. Further, the asymptomatic spread is of heightened concern in correctional facilities, given their dense living and working conditions. This point is supported by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance, which states, “[c]ongregate living or working conditions, such as in correctional and detention facilities, have potential for rapid and widespread transmission of SARS-CoV-2.” As such, more testing must be undertaken immediately to identify asymptomatic COVID-19 cases at FCI Pekin.

Further, CDC guidance supports a more aggressive testing strategy for facilities facing significant outbreaks. It notes, “…if there is a concern for widespread transmission following the identification of new-onset SARS-CoV-2 infection among [inmates] or staff, facility management should consider a broader testing strategy, beyond testing only close contacts within the facility, to reduce the chances of a large outbreak.”

In addition to CDC guidance supporting a more robust mitigation strategy, so too do our constituents, whose family members and community are at risk. For instance, on October 12, 2020, a concerned parent of an FCI Pekin employee wrote our offices. The communication notes, “[m]y daughter is employed by the Federal Bureau of Prisons in Pekin. She is afraid to go to work due to the lack of mitigation inside this prison… I am scared for my daughter but also fearful of an outbreak with employees getting infected and infecting others in the community.”

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