HELENA, Mont. — The Montana Army National Guard has been activated to help officers at a state prison contain a coronavirus outbreak, Gov. Steve Bullock said Monday.
The 67 volunteer soldiers will be assisting officers at the Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge over the next two weeks with duties such as distributing mail and meals, laundry and inmate counts starting Tuesday. Their help will free up prison staff for other duties.
The Department of Corrections requested assistance after an outbreak that began at the prison in early October affected 166 inmates and 61 staff through Friday. Monday’s numbers said there were 203 cases among inmates and 75 involving staff, the department reported. The facility has a total of 701 staff members and just over 1,400 inmates.
National Guard units are helping operate a northern Indiana prison that’s faced with staffing shortages after several prison workers were stricken with COVID-19.
Department of Corrections Director Reginald D. Michael said activating the National Guard was part of the prison’s COVID-19 response plan.
The National Guard soldiers will be split into two groups, each working 12-hour shifts, Bullock said. The team is expected to work at the prison through Nov. 8.
The activation comes as Montana reported 622 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, bringing the totals since mid-March to 28,500 known cases and 303 deaths along with 360 current hospitalizations. The number of cases is thought to be far higher because not everyone has been tested and people can have COVID-19 without showing any symptoms.
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For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.