Baldwin -- North Lake Correctional Facility in Baldwin was declared a "model prison" pertaining to health department standards, despite having over 80 inmates and staff members test positive for coronavirus.

Patrick Maddox, Lake County Emergency Management director, told the Board of Commissioners at its meeting May 13, that District Health Department No. 10 officials toured the facility on May 11 and reported that they were happy with what they saw.

"They were happy with everything that is set in place, and the precautionary measures that are being implemented to deal with the coronavirus situation," Maddox said.

Executive Assistant at North Lake Correctional Facility, Mark Pitcher, would not comment on the number of positive cases, or the safety procedures in place at the facility, but said they are following all the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BoP), guidelines on coronavirus mitigation.

Pablo Paez, a spokesperson for GEO Group, Inc., the for profit company that operates the facility, said, as of May 12, 20 staff members at the facility have tested positive for COVID-19.

Of those 20 employees: nine live in Mason County; three live in Osceola County; two live in Montcalm County; two live in Lake County; one lives in Wexford County; one lives in Oceana County; and two live in Mecosta County.

Ten of those employees are currently at home on self-quarantine, while the remaining ten have fully recovered and returned to work after meeting the guidelines issued by the CDC.

"The health and safety of those in our care, and our employees, is our utmost priority," Paez said. "GEO has taken comprehensive steps at all facilities to address the risk of COVID-19 to all of those in our care and our employees, who are the front lines making daily sacrifices to provide for those in our facility."

Paez referred inquiries about inmate numbers to the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BoP) website.

According to the latest figures from the BoP, as of May 21, 65 inmates at North Lake Correctional Facility have tested positive for the coronavirus. Of those that have tested positive, 63 have fully recovered.

In response to recent reports from an outside group, No Detention Centers in Michigan, that inmates are dying and a possible hunger strike by inmates was planned, a GEO Group, Inc. employee, speaking off the record, stated that, according to facility personnel, all inmates are receiving and eating meals.

Paez said, GEO strongly rejects those allegations.

"We take our responsibility to ensure the health and safety of all those in our care with the utmost seriousness," he said.

Paez stated that the facility provides access to regular hand washing with soap and clean water throughout the facility; provides 24/7 access to healthcare; and is equipped with Airborne Infection Isolation Rooms as part of the COVID-19 mitigation response.

"We have also deployed personal protective equipment, including facemasks for all staff and inmates at the facility," he said.

Updated information on positive coronavirus cases can be found at bop.gov/coronavirus.