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LEE COUNTY, Ark. — A small Arkansas county is dealing with a large rise in COVID-19 cases after an outbreak at a state prison.

At the correctional center in Lee County, 550 inmates tested positive for the coronavirus earlier this month.

Dena Poteat with the Arkansas Department of Health runs the Southeast region, which includes Lee County. She said 44 correctional officers and staffers tested positive as well.

Those employees are quarantining now, but of course prior to being tested, they were leaving the prison every day and interacting with the community. Health officials are particularly concerned about that.

“Right now, there’s so much contact tracing, and our numbers are growing,” Poteat said.

Lee County has a total of 621 coronavirus cases. That’s seventh most in the state.

Poteat said Lee County faces a number of challenges because it’s a small county. For example, she said it’s hard to get residents to follow COVID-19 safety guidelines.

“We all feel like we know each other,” Poteat said. “Sometimes, people are going to do what they want to until if affects them, and then maybe they’ll realize it’s important to wear a mask, social distance, wash their hands.”

James and Betty Jones aren’t taking any chances. They run a popular barbecue restaurant in Marianna, but they’re only taking orders to go.

“They call and tell me what they want and come in and pick it up and go. Nobody comes in and sits down,” James Jones said.

The prison is located in the Brickeys community. Officials with the prison say the inmates who tested positive have been separated from those who didn’t.