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MCF-Willow River COVID-19 Response

(Reviewed January 7, 2022)

Minnesota Department of Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell has directed each of the state’s prisons to implement “Stay with Unit” plans to provide living unit separation, and to minimize the potential for COVID-19 spread. “Stay with Unit” ensures incarcerated individuals participate in facility activities, including any programming, yard time, and dining, only with others in their living unit. By providing living unit separation, better social distancing becomes possible and we minimize the potential for widespread outbreaks across entire facilities.

The following additional measures have been taken to protect those within the Willow River facility. This list is not necessarily exhaustive of all measures in place.

Masks: During certain times of the pandemic, such as an outbreak and/or highly contagious variant, we will at times place all facility staff in N95 masks. Staff are required to wear masks at all times inside the facility. All incarcerated people have been supplied surgical masks. Each person has been given an ample supply of masks and instructions on how to put it on, and how to take it off safely. Staff are required to wear masks in the facility and the incarcerated population are required to wear them when outside their cells. The DOC follows Minnesota Department of Health guidelines for when and how personal protective equipment is used.

Co-Pays: Medical co-pays have been reinstated for most situations: including routine medical, dental, eye and physical exams. Any individual reporting respiratory/cold/cough systems will NOT be charged a co-pay at this time. We had previously waived ALL medical co-pays for the duration of the Governor’s declared emergency.

Protecting Staff and their Families: MCF-Willow River has implemented a number of measures to protect staff and their families. Similar to staff at health care facilities, DOC staff have been provided guidance for steps to take to protect their families while they continue to come to work every day. Information has been distributed and is on posters at the facility for washing hands when they leave work, designating a door of their home just for them to enter and exit, changing clothes and showering when they get home, and avoiding sharing food, among other steps.

Hand washing stations: All individuals are required to wash their hands when entering and exiting the facility. MCF-Willow River has installed hand sanitizing stations throughout the facility. Handwashing sinks are located in each building throughout the facility. Additional hand sanitizing stations for inmates were placed in the facility’s main hallways. Inmate restrooms and kitchenettes also have sinks to wash hands. All individuals (staff and incarcerated) are encouraged to wash their hands frequently throughout the day.

Isolation Plans: MCF-Willow River has an isolation plan in place. Details include separating the symptomatic/confirmed individuals from general population and allowing personal hygiene activities, time outside, small written assignments, and library materials. Isolation, quarantine, and cohort strategies were informed by recommendations from the Minnesota Department of Health. To properly follow these recommendations, MCF-Willow River utilizes cots throughout the isolation area to maximize separation and preserve cohort integrity.

Phones: MCF-Willow River incarcerated people receive two 15-minute phone calls per week or one 15 minute phone calls and one 15 minute video visit. Phones are cleaned with germicidal by the user before and after each use and twice daily by work crews.

In-Person Visiting: All visits must be scheduled in advance.

Video Visiting: Video Kiosks are cleaned with germicidal by the user before and after each use and twice daily by work crews.

Showers and Bathrooms: Incarcerated people still have access to showers and bathroom facilities.

Recreation, Yard, and Courtyard Time: Outdoor recreation time is still occurring at all facilities. Certain no contact games are still allowed, as is playing catch, using exercise equipment, and lifting weights. Social distancing and disinfecting of equipment is monitored. Willow River continues outside activities, including physical training, drill and ceremony, and work crews. Procedures are in place to maximize social distancing. Equipment is cleaned with germicidal. This cleaning is monitored by staff.

Food Services: Willow River is providing meals by barracks if in quarantine and cleaning the dining hall between barracks’ meal times. Social distancing is accomplished by seating at least 6 feet apart within the dining hall area.

Work: Willow River’s work assignments are limited because of the nature of the program (not due to COVID).

Medication: Pill windows are open at Willow River. Social distancing is accomplished by minimizing the number of men in the line, requiring the use of a mask, and ensuring that they are 6 feet apart.

Mail and Emails: Individuals can still send and receive mail and emails as they normally would.

Canteen: Items purchased are delivered to the units.

Education: Education classes are held in the education building by squad and barrack.

Treatment: Substance Use Disorder classes are held in the SUD building by squad and barrack. 

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