11 deaths, high rate of infection at one Michigan prison

777 prisoners test positive for virus

COLDWATER, Mich. – More than 50% of inmates tested at a Michigan prison have been infected with the highly contagious coronavirus and at least 11 have died, officials reported.

Lakeland prison in Branch County in southern Michigan continues to be a hot spot. It has a large share of the system's older prisoners.

The Corrections Department said 1,411 prisoners had been tested at Lakeland and 777 were positive for the virus, according to a tally posted online Saturday. Thirty-one staff members also had the virus.

The department said it was testing all prisoners there regardless of symptoms. The same strategy will be used this week at the Cotton prison in Jackson County.

“This kind of testing on this scale is going to help us save lives because these prisoners were unknown positives, had no symptoms and were walking around prisoners who are elderly and medically frail and potentially spreading it to them,” spokesman Chris Gautz said.

Across the prison system, 55% of prisoners tested so far had the virus and 31 have died, the state said. Two staff members have died.

The Innocence Clinic at University of Michigan law school tried to get Jeff Titus, 68, removed from Lakeland prison while the attorney general's office investigates whether he was wrongly convicted of two 1990 homicides in Kalamazoo County. But U.S. District Judge Paul Borman rejected it.

“The contention that (Titus) may become ill with COVID-19 at some future time does not create an exceptional circumstance warranting release on bond,” Borman said last Tuesday before a surge in new infections at the prison.

The number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in Michigan has risen to 37,203 as of Sunday, including 3,274 deaths. State officials have reported a total of 8,342 recoveries.

Meanwhile, the global death toll tops 200,000 as some virus lockdowns ease.

Michigan’s governor has extended the stay-at-home order through May 15. However, she is allowing some businesses to reopen under strict guidelines.

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