Ben Asks a Question: How is COVID-19 affecting Ohio prisons?

Facility reports high number of cases, but no deaths
Amy Acton feat Mike DeWine
Posted at 7:40 PM, Apr 22, 2020

COLUMBUS, Ohio — As leaders say COVID-19 cases in Ohio have begun to plateau, the state’s prison system is seeing different results. Marion County State Prison has nearly 2,000 confirmed cases, including more than 100 staff members.

Today’s question asked during Gov. Mike DeWine’s daily press briefing came from WCPO viewer Steve Horstman, who asked about the large number of cases at Marion County State Prison. He pointed out that no deaths had been reported. As a result, he wanted to know how dangerous COVID-19 truly is -- and if Ohioans could be at less of a risk than originally predicted.

Ben Asks a Question is a feature we started as a way to help give you a voice during Gov. Mike DeWine's daily press briefings. Since then, Ben has gotten hundreds of questions a day. If you'd like to ask a question, find us on Facebook and feel free to message us there, or send us an email at

As reported by Cleveland’s Fox8 station, the state now says one inmate and one staff member have died after contracting COVID-19. I included this report in my question to Dr. Amy Acton while asking a question similar to what Horstman sent in.

Acton pointed out that inmates at the Marion County State Prison are being tested more extensively than the general public, meaning more confirmed cases are showing up.

“We know we have a lot of cases, we actually think we have a lot of cases all about us, but it’s a place where we tested, and we tested more extensively,” said Acton. “And what we know, is a certain percentage of people, many were asymptomatic in the prison. Some will go on to develop symptoms, some of those folks will be sick enough to actually need [to be] hospitalized … And we know just by how this works that the deaths will fall later. So we really don’t have the kind of population level data until we have the testing, until we have some time to see numbers over time to make any conclusions about fatality rates.”

As of Wednesday, over 80% of the prison population at Marion County State Prison have tested positive for COVID-19