IMPORTANT MESSAGE FROM DIRECTOR PRECYTHE: Staff Face Coverings, Personal Masks & Hand Sanitizer

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April 3, 2020

Good evening, MODOC team:

First, I want to say thank you to our entire corrections team for continuing to work through this public health crisis. We are in unprecedented times, unlike anything we have experienced before. You are an important and critical part of keeping Missouri safe, and I appreciate you.

This is a long email, but it's an important one.

Today, I want to talk to you about personal masks (e.g. N95 or KN95 masks) and other face coverings (such as those similar in appearance to a surgical mask). Personal masks continue to be recommended for people who are positive for COVID-19 and for anyone working with or around a person with COVID-19. Other face coverings are intended for anyone, anytime and can be worn during ordinary daily activities, while out in the public, or at work (such as during regular interactions with coworkers or offenders in the general population).

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to recommend that personal masks be worn only by people who are COVID-19 positive or who are working near or caring for a confirmed positive person. This approach has been the norm nationally. Now, some health care professionals are suggesting that everyone wear a face covering of some type. Regardless, there is a global shortage of both.

It is important for you to know we have been working on this issue for weeks. However, due to the difficulty of obtaining the volume of personal masks (e.g. N95 or KN95 masks) needed, we haven’t been ready to communicate until now. In the event of a long-term outbreak at multiple facilities, hundreds of thousands of personal masks will be necessary. The good news is we have a sufficient number of personal masks on hand for a short-term or isolated outbreak if or when needed. My team and I have been working to obtain enough personal masks for a long-term, widespread outbreak. We placed another large order today. Again, personal masks are used to prevent someone with COVID-19 from spreading the virus and to protect anyone working in the same wing or area with an offender who is positive for COVID-19.

We are aware that more health care professionals are now suggesting everyone wear some type of face covering, if available. We were already working on this. These too are in short supply, so we began to explore making our own. In typical corrections fashion, if we can’t get what we need from somewhere else, we will make it ourselves. Missouri Vocational Enterprises (MVE) produced several prototypes more than a week ago. We asked the Department of Health & Senior Services (DHSS) to evaluate the MVE face coverings, and we have made their recommended changes. Great news: We have face coverings in production for our MODOC teams who work inside facilities!

IMPORTANT: The face covering is not to be confused with a personal mask.

As a reminder from DHSS, use of face coverings offers some degree of protection against cross contamination, such as mucus or saliva from sneezing and/or coughing. Face covering use by well persons also might reduce self-inoculation (e.g. touching one’s own mucous membranes with the hand after touching a contaminated surface). DHSS also stated the face coverings should be used in conjunction with the other health recommendations already in place, such as trying to maintain 6 feet of distance from other people, thorough and frequent hand washing, and avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

Of course, producing a large supply in a short period of time is a big challenge; we need thousands and thousands of them. To help with that, MVE is expanding production to other factories and will be adding extra shifts. Some factories will be making these face coverings this weekend. As soon as we can get them made, you will have them. We are hoping that we can start distributing them to you early next week. In the meantime, if you have your own personal mask or other face covering and you want to wear it at work, please feel free to do so.

You do not have to wear a face covering; it is optional, and the decision is yours. If you have a personal mask or face covering and prefer your own over what we provide, that is fine too. However, personal masks and other protective equipment will be mandatory for anyone working directly with an offender who has tested positive for COVID-19, who is working in that wing or, potentially, who is working in the housing unit.

MVE has also been producing hand sanitizer, which should be arriving at all prisons early next week. We are in the process of distributing more than 1,000 gallons among our prisons, Cremer Therapeutic Community Center, community supervision centers and the Transition Center of St. Louis.

I will be sending out more news early next week with additional updates on visits and several changes in operations. Stay tuned for that information.

For updates on corrections response to COVID-19, as well as recommendations for avoiding the virus, check web pages provided by the Department of Corrections and the Department of Health and Senior Services.

Thank you again for all that you do. Whether times are good or times are challenging, we are a committed and professional organization that the public can count on. They are relying on us.

Anne L. Precythe