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12 inmates, 4 employees at Coyote Ridge prison test positive for COVID-19

Inmates taking part in a dog training program walk the yard at the Coyote Ridge Corrections Center in Connell, Washington, on Thursday, June 13, 2013. A dozen inmates and four employees at Coyote Ridge have tested positive for COVID-19 – the second-largest outbreak in a Washington state prison so far. (Richard Dickin / AP)

A dozen inmates and four employees have tested positive for COVID-19 at the Coyote Ridge Corrections Center – the second-largest outbreak thus far in a Washington state prison.

In response, the Department of Corrections is shutting down the food factory at Coyote Ridge, where inmates produce meals for the entire prison system and dozens of external customers.

Coyote Ridge is in Connell, about 35 miles north of the Tri-Cities. All of the prison’s inmates will be quarantined in their units for 10 days starting Tuesday. All classes and other programming will be suspended.

The DOC said employees at Coyote Ridge are conducting contact tracing to identify those who may have been exposed to the coronavirus. Employees have “increased testing and are testing incarcerated individuals as soon as they are symptomatic,” the agency’s public affairs office said in an email.

Food factories at Coyote Ridge and the Airway Heights Corrections Center are run by the DOC’s business division, Correctional Industries, which employs inmates for as little as $1 an hour to make furniture, stamp license plates and cook food, among other services.

DOC spokesman Jeremy Barclay said the factory at Coyote Ridge was expected to remain closed only during the 10-day quarantine. He said the agency keeps extra food in store for such disruptions.

“We try and keep meals prepared, food prepared, for inmates in advance,” Barclay said. “We don’t anticipate that this will put any kind of crimp in the operations of the agency.”

The DOC said six inmates with COVID-19 have been transferred from Coyote Ridge to Airway Heights, where the agency has set up beds in the prison chapel to serve as a “regional care facility” for inmates infected by the virus.

A second COVID-19 treatment ward has been established at the Washington Corrections Center in Shelton.

As of Monday, the DOC said it had confirmed 40 cases of COVID-19 among people incarcerated at its prisons and work-release facilities. Additionally, 43 employees had tested positive for the disease, including two at Airway Heights.

The largest cluster of cases – nine employees and 18 inmates – occurred at the Monroe Correctional Complex in Snohomish County.

The DOC last week reported the first death of one of its employees due to COVID-19.

Corrections Officer Berisford Morse, 65, had worked for the department since 2003 and last reported for duty at the Monroe facility on April 24.