Coronavirus: Governor orders National Guard to assist at federal prison

Ohio guard will have “medical-only” mission, Governor DeWine says

DeWine talks about federal prison in Ohio

Elkton — “We are prepared to send at least 26 guardsmen and women to help in the Elkton infirmary,” Ohio Governor Mike DeWine announced in a coronavirus briefing Monday. The Elkton Federal Correctional Institution in Columbiana County is Ohio’s only federal prison, and is run by federal agencies. The governor said he made the decision to deploy Ohio guard members there after National Guard officials visited the prison and told him, "There is no doubt this prison needs help.”

3 inmates at the prison have died from COVID-19, and at least 7 have tested positive. Dozens more have shown symptoms, according to the governor.

The deployment of National Guard members is temporary, said the governor, and is intended to be 7 to 10 days until more federal assistance arrives.

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The guard members are there to assist the prison medical staff dealing with an outbreak at the prison. “This is a medical mission only. The guard members will not be armed, they will not be providing security,” said the governor.

None of the guard members will be armed with weapons, but they will be armed with N95 respirator masks to protect them at all times. All of the guard members being deployed work in the medical field. They will provide patient care and triage patients as they help the prison medical staff, and they also will have ambulances if they need to transport patients from the prison.

Elkton is the only federal prison in Ohio. To complicate the medical response there, the prison has half the medical staff it needs, according to the governor. And the strain is also on the corrections officers; for each inmate taken to a hospital, two guards must accompany the prisoner and remain at the hospital. The governor says there are inmates from the Elkton federal facility currently at Ohio hospitals.

The inmates at the Elkton Federal Correctional Institution are from around the country, having been convicted in federal courts. The prison is run by the U. S. Justice Department’s Federal Bureau of Prisons. While it is a federal facility, Governor DeWine says, “Providing state help to this federal prison is the right thing to do.”

Governor DeWine said he spoke with the head of the federal prison system Sunday night, and asked that no more prisoners be allowed into the federal facility. “That’s something we feel very, very strongly about,” the governor said.