Moose Lake reports first COVID-19 death at state-run sex offender program

A Moose Lake inmate has died of COVID-19, marking the first instance of a pandemic-related fatality among staff or those civilly committed at the state’s two program sites for sex offenders.

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The unidentified inmate died Wednesday, a Department of Human Services (DHS) news release said, adding that the individual’s family had been notified. His death was the fifth reported from all Minnesota correctional facilities this year.

Human Services Commissioner Jodi Harpstead expressed sympathy to the man’s family and friends in a news release.

Nearly 740 civilly committed clients receive treatment at MSOP facilities in Moose Lake and St. Peter. There are currently 18 active cases of COVID-19 in MSOP facilities, according to DHS.

The two state facilities “have implemented stringent infection-prevention and control measures to protect clients and staff from COVID-19,” the release said, including daily screenings of staff for COVID-19 symptoms, a cloth mask requirement and voluntary mass testing of staff and inmates one day a week. That testing will continue until a two-week period passes with no new COVID-19 cases.

In addition, inmates are only allowed to interact with other inmates who live in their unit. Outside visitors are prohibited with the exception of “essential service providers” and vendors, who are screened before entering.

Anyone with a confirmed infection is quarantined or isolated, the release said.

On Nov. 22, a 73-year-old Oak Park Heights inmate who had recently tested positive for the corona­virus while undergoing cancer treatment at the University of Minnesota Medical Center died, becoming the fourth state prisoner to succumb to the virus.

Most prisons have remained on semi-permanent lockdown since March, prohibiting outside visitors, restricting inmate movements and disrupting educational programming to fight the virus’ spread.

But the outbreak still slipped behind bars last spring, hopping from prisons in Moose Lake to Faribault, St. Cloud and Stillwater, which is now among the largest known hot spots of infections in the state. About 75% of Stillwater’s overall population have tested positive, in addition to nearly 200 staff members.

Since March, more than 2,750 Minnesota inmates have tested positive for the respiratory disease. More than 730 corrections staff members around the state have also fallen ill with COVID-19. More than half have since returned to duty.

The four male prisoners who died previously were serving sentences at Faribault, Stillwater and Oak Park Heights.

Staff writer Liz Sawyer contributed to this report.  

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