PIERRE, S.D. — Eight inmates who escaped the minimum security South Dakota’s Women’s Prison in Pierre on Monday were in the same unit as a another inmate who tested positive for COVID-19, Gov. Kristi Noem confirmed during a news conference Tuesday, March 24.

“The inmates left the Pierre Community Work Center without authorization at 8:43 p.m. on March 23 by exiting an exterior door,” a news release from the South Dakota Department of Corrections stated.

The South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation is investigating the incident. Originally, nine inmates had escaped, but one has been brought back into custody since.

South Dakota Department of Health Secretary of Health Kim Malsam-Rysdon said the inmate in custody who tested positive for COVID-19 remains in isolation at the women’s prison in Pierre, adding that she can’t speak to the actual housing cell the inmate is being housed in.

“I can say she’s isolated from other inmates at this time as well,” Malsam-Rysdon said during the news conference.

“We are currently working with all potential individuals who could have come into contact with this inmate, including staff and other inmates.”

The state is currently looking at the situation regarding the eight escaped inmates to see if they had close proximity to the inmate who tested positive for COVID-19.

Noem said the potential that the virus could spread through the prison’s ventilation system is also a concern.

“We have protocols in place, we’re following all the CDC recommendations and have taken every precautionary measure we can,” Noem reiterated.

The ninth inmate who has been brought back into custody has been tested for COVID-19 but the state has yet to receive the results back, Malsam-Rysdon said.

“We’ll take the same precautions as we would with any other patient showing symptoms to mitigate the risk,” Malsam-Rysdon added.

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