COVID-19 cases at Washington state prison set off demonstration by more than 100 inmates

There were no injuries reported, but officials believe the disturbance was sparked by recent positive COVID-19 cases at the facility.

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By Phil Helsel

Inmates at a Washington state prison were involved in a destructive disturbance Wednesday night after six men at the facility tested positive for the coronavirus, officials said.

Authorities used pepper spray and "sting balls" to help quell the demonstration at the Monroe Correctional Complex that involved more than 100 inmates in a recreation yard around 6 p.m. Fire extinguishers were discharged within two housing units in the minimum-security unit, the state department of corrections said.

There were no injuries, and the situation is under control, the department said.

"It is believed at this time that the incident was caused by recent positive test results of COVID-19 among six men within the Minimum Security Unit," the corrections department said in a statement.

The six inmates who have tested positive for the disease caused by the novel coronavirus were moved to isolation Sunday.

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Monroe Correctional Complex, in Snohomish County, was the first state prison in Washington to have an inmate test positive for COVID-19. Positive results for two of the six inmates came back Tuesday, the department said. They had been in the minimum-security unit but had been moved to isolation before the tests came back.

Five staff members are also considered positive for the illness, but that number is based on self-reporting, according to the corrections department's website.

The corrections department statement said that when the fire extinguishers were set off and gave the "appearance of smoke from the exterior."

The "sting balls," which release light, noise and rubber pellets, were used after inmates in the two housing units ignored orders by law enforcement, the corrections department said.

In the federal prison system, there have been 253 inmates and 85 Bureau of Prisons staff who have tested positive for COVID-19 nationwide, according to the bureau. Eight federal inmates have died.

The COVID-19 outbreak prompted U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr to urge home confinement in some circumstances, and since then the federal prison system has put an additional 723 inmates on home confinement, the bureau said.