Iola family expresses concern for family member with COVID-19 at state prison

Iola family says 30-year-old Preston Kern isn't being seen by doctors after he tested positive for COVID-19

IOLA, Kan. – “It’s hard. And if anybody has kids. I don’t know, it’s like you could lose your child,” says Gail Chapman.

Gail Chapman is struggling with the unknown.

“Young people have died, old people have died. It’s like a gamble I guess, I don’t know,” says Gail.

Her son, 30-year-old Preston Kern, is currently serving part of a decade long sentence at Lansing Correctional Facility, where 750 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19.

“He called and said that he had it, and I kind of freaked out,” says Gail.

Preston’s sister Rebecca talks to him on the jail’s messaging system because they can’t call him directly — and he hasn’t been able to call them as much as usual.

She says he doesn’t have severe symptoms, but…

“He hasn’t seen a doctor. They put everybody that’s tested positive in one room together,” says Rebecca.

We reached out to the Kansas Department of Corrections, which says Lansing is on a facility-wide lockdown.

They also say they are working with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and the National Guard to monitor and care for inmates. Inmates who have tested positive but are asymptomatic are being housed together. Inmates who do have symptoms are isolated separately in their cells.

KDOC also says they don’t plan to test inmates in isolation before they are put back into general population, saying they are following CDC guidelines.

Gail and Rebecca hope they will retest inmates since there’s so much about the virus that’s unknown.

“I want him to at least be able to see a doctor to make sure everything’s okay. I want them to be tested before they go back to population because I don’t see that that’s doing any good,” says Rebecca.

“He did his crime, and he’s willing to do his time. But he didn’t ask for a death sentence… it wasn’t that serious. And that’s potentially what this could be,” says Gail.

Three inmates and two staff members at Lansing have died because of the virus.

The Department of Corrections says 645 of the 750 inmates at the prison aren’t showing symptoms.