More than 200 prisoners test positive for coronavirus, doubling Tipton County total

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MASON, Tenn. — More than 200 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 at the West Tennessee Detention Center in Mason, the latest Mid-South prison to see an outbreak.

County officials say if they don’t see the numbers go down soon, they’ll be forced to make some tough decisions.

“If we see that there is a second wave of coronavirus that hits us, then we would relook at the restrictions and tighten them up again,” said Jeff Huffman, Tipton County executive.

The Tennessee Department of Health reports Tipton County now has 400 cases. That’s about 200 more than it had Sunday.

Huffman said he believes the majority of the new cases come from the prison. However, he’s concerned about what he says is a lack of communication from the facility.

“They’ll tell me that they’re going through their protocol but I don’t know what the protocol is,” he said.

Huffman says he was told 250 inmates and at least 12 employees tested positive for covid-19, but that’s a slightly different number than what the privately managed facility says.

According to CoreCivic, 228 inmates and four staff members have tested positive. None were showing symptoms when they were tested, the company said.

A spokesperson said they don’t have all of their test results back yet, but they will release that information when they get the results.

Huffman said it’s these discrepancies that makes his job harder.

“The concern I have, or course, is the employees who work there,” he said.

A little more than two weeks ago, several businesses reopened in Tipton County.

However, Huffman said if the prison cannot contain the outbreak, he will consider closing businesses again.

“If they are asymptomatic or not, when they get off their shift and they’re going back home and they’re in their community and they go to Lowe’s or Home Depot or Walmart or any of these retail establishments, are they spreading the COVID-19 virus throughout the community?”

A spokesperson said the inmates — whether they test positive or negative — are housed separately and sick employees are self-isolated at home.

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