COLDWATER TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — A prison near Coldwater is dealing with a coronavirus outbreak, and five inmates at Lakeland Correctional Facility have died after contracting it.

News 8 first brought you numbers coming out of the prison on Thursday when it was reported that three inmates died of the virus. On Sunday, it was reported that two more inmates died.

“It’s been unfortunate to see the outbreak occur there because it was one of the places we feared most an outbreak would occur,” Michigan Department of Corrections spokesperson Chris Gautz said Thursday.

MDOC said Lakeland was considered always high risk because the majority of the 1,400 prisoners there have chronic health issues or are elderly. 

“When you walk through there (Lakeland), one of the first things you’ll notice is that the cell doors are extra wide to accommodate wheel chairs,” Gautz said.

He said prisoners who test positive for the virus are sent to the Carson City or Jackson prison. Units remain separated around the clock, with individual yard time and eating hours. Masks are worn by everyone.  

Despite those efforts, 22 prison staff members have tested positive. Lakeland lost its entire food serving staff because one employee got the virus. 

“When an employee tests positive, we then ask them, ‘Who did you have close contact with?’ And then we also will literally go back and literally watch the video the surveillance video and find that individual and follow them around on camera for the days that they were symptomatic,” Gautz explained.

Anyone who came in contact with a positive case has to be quarantined. The state has arranged for free hotel rooms to keep staff from spreading the virus to their family members. Additionally, employees are getting premium pay — an additional $750 per pay period.

“It’s too early to say if we are seeing the numbers level off because just how contagious and sinister this virus can be,” Gautz said.

The communities around the prison are keeping a close eye on the numbers. Leaders in Branch County said they feel confident in the prison’s actions to contain the virus.