FRANKLIN -- A statement from Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele's office Wednesday, April 8 confirmed seven positive cases of the coronavirus among inmates at the Milwaukee County House of Correction in Franklin. Four staffers also tested positive.
HOC Superintendent Michael Hafemann said Wednesday one inmate who tested positive is 65 years old, and the others range in age from their mid-20s to early 30s. The first patient entered custody at the facility on Feb. 24, became symptomatic and was, at some point, tested around March 27. The results came back on March 30.
The statement said five of the seven inmates were in a negative pressure "quarantine dormitory" at the HOC, and two were admitted to hospitals Wednesday morning because their medical needs could no longer be addressed at the HOC.
Six inmates are symptomatic, the statement said, and were tested for COVID-19. The statement said results for three were anticipated by Wednesday afternoon, and the other three by Friday.
Additionally, Hafemann noted 21 staff members self-quarantining at home.
"We have 80 beds that can be used for quarantine space, if we need it," the statement from the county executive's office said. "We are working closely with the Franklin Health Department to ensure inmates and staff are protected. We have been anticipating and planning for this situation and are quickly reacting to it."
Families expressed fear about coughing and fever inside the HOC.
"There's a lot of people afraid for their life," said Ratia Donnell, family of an inmate. "There's a lot of people in there that know they're sick, but they don't wanna say anything because they don't wanna be, you know, segregated and moved away. Someone just passed out at 11 having shortness of breath."
Hafemann said staff members showing symptoms were being asked to stay home, with three times the usual amount of sanitizing being done in the facility, and visitation not being permitted. He said temperatures were being taken before any staff can come to work. Hafemann said supplies of things like soap and wipes were sufficient at the facility with more coming, and staff were wearing masks when appropriate.
Family members of inmates said with staff members sick, there have been fewer employees, less cleaning and no access to personal protective equipment for inmates -- some of them set to be released in a matter of weeks.
"Some people aren't able to reach out to their families because they don' have the funds or proper support," said Donnell. "He said they don't even have soap to wash their hands. I want them to be protected, and they should be able to have the same rights as we do in the general population," said Donnell.
It's unclear how quickly this spread, but when FOX6 News last checked in with the superintendent eight days ago, he said there were no positive cases.
The facility is located near 68th Street and Ryan Road in Franklin. As of Wednesday, the population was 725, with 185 on electronic monitoring. Hafemann said 49 inmates were released last week who were near the end of their sentence, and nine were released Tuesday. He noted no plans for the wholesale release of inmates.