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Montana National Guard Wraps Up Service At State Prison, Soldiers Contract COVID-19

Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge.
Montana Department of Corrections
Montana Department of Corrections
Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge.

The Montana National Guard on Nov. 18 withdrew from Montana State Prison after assisting the facility, strained by an outbreak of COVID-19 among inmates and staff. Eleven soldiers tested positive for the virus prior to and during the roughly three week mission.

Major Dan Bushnell says it’s unknown how nine National Guard members contracted the virus while on assignment at the state prison.

"We do not know that at this time," Bushnell said.

Bushnell says contact between service members and inmates was minimal.

"But certainly our staff was required to wear PPE that was there. And when they had interaction with inmates, direct interaction with inmates, they were required to wear a face shield, N95 mask, gloves and gown," Bushnell said.

He says soldiers who tested positive for COVID-19 were isolated at home or the barracks at Fort Harrison in Helena.

Bushnell says two other guard members were identified as positive cases during transport to Deer Lodge. They and 14 close contacts were pulled from the mission and isolated immediately.

Sixty-seven volunteer soldiers with the National Guard were originally assigned to assist with daily duties at the state prison starting on Oct. 27 and tested before leaving Helena.

Fifty-one guard members served at the prison through Nov. 8. Forty stayed through Nov. 18 following an extension request from the state Department of Disaster and Emergency services.

Spokesperson for the Montana Department of Corrections Carolynn Bright says staffing at the prison continues to be affected by the pandemic. However, Bright says some quarantined staff members have been cleared to return to work and new cases or close contacts among staff have declined.

The DOC’s COVID-19 reporting website announced 23 additional state prison inmate cases on Nov. 16. No new staff cases were announced, bringing the total number of infections at the facility since June to 346 inmates and 136 staff.