The York County Jail in Alfred. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

An email points to an outright ban on masks in housing units in the York County Jail that’s dealing with a coronavirus outbreak.

The Alfred facility became a coronavirus hotspot after an employee who attended an Aug. 7 wedding in the Katahdin region spread the virus. The number of infected inmates and corrections officers is approaching 90.

The jail could have made things worse with its policies. The email said inmates were not permitted to bring masks into any housing unit.

“Inmates are allowed to remove the masks from their faces when in secured holding cell(s). Inmates that test negative for COVID-19 will dispose of their mask, in intake and in front of staff,” the May 5 email said.

Attorney Tim Zerillo, who represents an inmate who caught the virus, said in recent months he has received complaints from inmates and their families.

“Those complaints were always that there were no masks at the jail and neither the detainees or the guards were wearing masks and that people were scared and I don’t think it’s just the inmates who were scared,” Zerillo told ABC affiliate WMTW.

Corrections officers reported that there was an “an informal directive not to wear masks in the housing units for fear of creating hysteria amongst the inmates,” said William Doyle, an official with the union that represents corrections officers.

After the first cases at the jail, the Maine Department of Corrections reviewed 14 other jails in the state and found that four did not require inmates to wear face masks.

Corrections Commissioner Randall Liberty, whose department inspects jails, said deficiencies are being addressed. “When we brought to their attention the deficiencies that they have, they corrected them and are in the process of correcting them,” he said.

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