More prison inmates vaccinated than corrections employees

Published 3:33 pm Thursday, September 30, 2021

ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Department of Corrections has been more successful getting inmates immunized against the coronavirus than it has for its own employees, vaccination rates show.

As of this week, about 80% of prisoners in Minnesota have been fully vaccinated, while the immunization rate for corrections employees is just over 65% and at some prisons, it’s lower.

Fewer than 60 percent of staff at Moose Lake and St. Cloud have gotten the shot. At Rush City, it’s fewer than half, Minnesota Public Radio News reported.

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Paul Schnell, state corrections commissioner, said he’s “deeply concerned” about the department’s vaccination rates.

“We know that both vaccinated and unvaccinated people can bring the virus into the population,” he said. “But we know that that risk goes down greatly when people are vaccinated.”

A new mandate took effect this month which requires all Minnesota state employees working in the office or on site to either be vaccinated or submit to weekly testing for COVID-19. Schnell said his department is testing about 1,400 unvaccinated staff members on a weekly basis.

Schnell said the number of positive cases are affecting staffing levels needed to operate the prisons.

“If you have one shift (where) 75 percent or 80 percent of that shift is unvaccinated, what ends up happening is close contact and somebody brings it in, and they’re positive,” he said. “Now what ends up happening is we have the vast majority of one particular shift that is unable to work.”