Ore. inmates making masks for COs, prisoners statewide

Officials said the masks are intended to "reduce the amount of droplets expelled from a person's cough or sneeze"

By Noelle Crombie
The Oregonian

PENDLETON, Ore. — Oregon Corrections Enterprises said this week it had begun making “utility” masks for use by inmates and prison staff statewide.

Corrections Enterprises is a semi-independent agency funded through sales of its products and services. The agency is separate from the Oregon Department of Corrections.

Inmates at Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution in Pendleton are making the masks, which Corrections Enterprises said aren’t a replacement for personal protective equipment, such as N95 masks. Nationally, those masks and other protective equipment are scarce amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Instead, the masks made by the inmates are intended to “reduce the amount of droplets expelled from a person’s cough or sneeze," the agency said in a statement. Corrections Enterprises will initially produce 30,000 masks for voluntary use by prison employees and inmates “to reduce the spread of potential contagions in the facilities.”

The masks will be shipped starting this week. Inmates will be offered two masks and employees one, the agency said.

Unions and groups advocating for the release of medically vulnerable inmates have pressed the state to do more to protect corrections staff and prisoners from the pandemic. This week the Department of Corrections’ chief medical officer said the prison system has enough masks on hand currently.

This week, nurses at many Oregon hospitals say the lack of protective equipment is dire as they estimated they have less than a week left of gear to protect themselves from coronavirus.


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