ST. CLOUD – A recent surge of COVID-19 cases in St. Cloud prison has infected more than 85 inmates and accounts for more than 90% of current cases in the state's 11 prison facilities.

The Minnesota Correctional Facility-St. Cloud had 87 inmates with COVID-19 as of Tuesday. The next highest count is at Red Wing, which had only five positive cases among inmates as of Tuesday. Faribault and Lino Lakes each had two inmates with COVID-19, according to the Minnesota Department of Corrections' COVID-19 dashboard.

The recent outbreak isn't as bad as last November's when, before vaccines were available, a few hundred inmates and a few dozen staff tested positive for COVID-19. But the recent surge has infected about 11% of the inmates at the St. Cloud prison.

Calvin Miller, program director at the prison, attributes the surge to St. Cloud's being the intake facility for all male offenders entering the Department of Corrections system.

"We're [generally] taking in numerous guys every day coming in from the county jails," Miller said. "A lot of the guys are in our intake unit when they do test positive, so they're likely coming in infected."

Prison staff test new inmates for COVID-19 three times in 14 days before releasing them to the general population, Miller said. But efforts to keep inmates socially distanced in the intake unit don't always prevent spread.

Since cases spiked at the St. Cloud prison, visiting has been suspended and new admissions are being processed at Faribault for the time being, according to Nicholas Kimball, spokesman for the Department of Corrections.

Unvaccinated staff are regularly tested under the state's vaccine-or-test policy, and the state is temporarily conducting random testing of all staff to help prevent asymptomatic spread.

About 60% of staff at the St. Cloud prison are vaccinated, Kimball said. About 73% of inmates are fully vaccinated, with about 86% having received their first dose. Booster shots for inmates and staff will be offered starting next week.

At the state's 11 facilities, 12 prisoners have died of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. None died while imprisoned in St. Cloud. Since the pandemic began, more than 4,400 COVID-19 tests of inmates have been confirmed as positive at prison facilities; about one-fourth of those have been at the St. Cloud prison.

Jenny Berg • 612-673-7299

Twitter: @bergjenny