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8th Mass. DOC Prisoner Dies of COVID-19

An eighth man being held in a Massachusetts prison has died from COVID-19. The man was incarcerated at MCI-Shirley, where two other prisoners died of the disease last month.

The Department of Correction said the man was in his 50s and died at a local hospital, where he was being treated for the disease. Of the more than 1,200 men held at Shirley, 154 have tested positive for the coronavirus.

Five prisoners have died from COVID-19 at the Massachusetts Treatment Center in Bridgewater. One prisoner at the Essex County jail also died from the disease.

The latest state report indicates that more than 500 people held in Massachusetts jails and prisons have tested positive for the coronavirus, as well as 197 correction officers and 87 jail and prison staff members. But testing has been spotty in some correctional facilities, with some jails reporting little testing of either prisoners or staff. The last report to the state Supreme Judicial Court showed that only two of the state's 13 jails have tested at least 50 prisoners since April 5.

Dr. Alysse Wurcel, a physician at Tufts Medical Center and liaison to the Massachusetts Sheriffs Association, said during a media briefing for the Infectious Disease Society of America this week that there are lessons to be learned from the state. Each correctional facility needs to devise its own policies about how to deal with the virus behind bars, she said. An important move some Massachusetts jails made was partnering with academic medical centers to expedite testing.

"Really it's been effective," Wurcel said "The best way to manage COVID is through partnerships between public health, correctional administrators and clinicians."

The department has done widespread testing at four of its 16 facilities: the MTC, Old Colony Correctional Center, MCI-Shirley and MCI-Framingham. According to court documents, the DOC plans widespread testing at other state prisons this month.

The court documents were filed in response to a class action lawsuit seeking a broader release of prisoners than what was outlined in a State Supreme Court ruling last month in a separate lawsuit. The SJC is expected to issue a ruling soon on the class action suit.

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Deborah Becker Twitter Host/Reporter
Deborah Becker is a senior correspondent and host at WBUR. Her reporting focuses on mental health, criminal justice and education.

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