PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Nine female inmates escaped Monday night from the minimum-security unit at the South Dakota Women’s Prison on Pierre’s east side, Governor Kristi Noem said Tuesday morning.
Noem said one of the nine has been recaptured and was in custody. Noem told news reporters during a briefing on COVID-19 that she didn’t have any new information whether the woman was cooperating.
State Health Secretary Kim Malsam-Rysdon meanwhile said a different female inmate at the women’s prison who had tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday “continues to do well.”
“We’re following all medical guidelines with that patient, as we would advise any other health care provider, and she remains in isolation. Any other inmates that would have symptoms we will treat just like we would treat anybody else. We will do testing and make sure they stay in isolation as well,” Malsam-Rysdon said.
The secretary added, “We are currently working with all potential individuals that came into contact with this inmate. That would include staff as well as other inmates. We continue to assess. If anything of them show any symptoms, we will take prompt action to contain the issue.”
KELOLAND News reporter Kelli Volk asked the governor and the health secretary whether any of the escaped inmates could have had contact with the inmate who has COVID-19.
“We are currently looking at the situation involving the eight individuals to see if they had close proximity to the positive case, and so we’re currently working on that right now. Obviously that’s a very serious situation and we’re all hands on deck to figure that out,” Malsam-Rysdon said.
The governor confirmed the escapees and the sick woman were in the same unit. “We don’t know if they were in close proximity to each other yet. We will continue to investigate that and contact all those individuals,” Noem said.
Volk asked whether there was concern about COVID-19 spreading through air in the prison’s hallways or air-filtration system.
“Yes,” Noem replied, “we are obviously taking every precaution possible in investigating every single exposure that could exist. We have protocols in place for following all the CDC recommendations and the Department of Health guidelines in this situation and have taken every precautionary measure that we can.
“But obviously,” Noem continued, “those are all things that we are investigating right now.”
The inmate who had been captured was being held in the Pennington County jail Tuesday morning. Malsam-Rysdon said the woman had been tested for COVID-19 after she was caught, but the result wasn’t back. Malsam-Rysdon said “every precaution” would be taken.
The inmates left the Pierre Community Work Center without authorization at 8:43 p.m. CT on March 23 by exiting an exterior door, according to a news release the state Department of Corrections issued Tuesday at 10:10 a.m. CT.