Two inmates at the Penobscot County Jail have tested positive for COVID-19, the first cases among inmates in an outbreak first reported last week that has now infected 13 at the Bangor jail, Sheriff Troy Morton said Friday.
The two inmates who tested positive were in quarantine and tested before their release into the general population at the jail, which is standard practice with newly arrived inmates. They were housed in a three-person housing block, and those inmates are now in isolation, Morton said.
Eleven staff members and “individuals associated with the Penobscot County Jail” are confirmed or presumed to have COVID-19, Morton said Friday. The sheriff said several other inmates had tested negative this week, though he did not say how many.
Asked if he anticipates any other positive tests from inmates, Morton said his jail would continue to employ “best practices” it has used since March 2020 — such as use of PPE, testing, quarantining and cleaning — to reduce risk of spread.
“We have been managing the pandemic since March of last year, similar to the entire country,” Morton said. “Our best practices are in place to minimize risk.”
He also declined to say if the jail planned to test the entire inmate population for COVID-19, saying that staff were performing testing “in accordance to the recommendations” of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which opened an investigation into the outbreak on Thursday.
Morton said the jail had tested 82 inmates last month and 20 in the last few days.
Morton announced on Feb. 23 that six staff members had tested positive. The first case in the jail had been discovered over the previous weekend when a corrections officer tested positive. The jail took steps to contain the virus, including requiring that close contacts of staff members stay home from work.
The jail held 121 inmates as of Friday, with 50 boarded out to other facilities, according to the sheriff.
The outbreak has halted the entry of new inmates into the jail, forcing police departments across Penobscot County to drive arrestees long distances to other county jails, including those in Hancock and Waldo counties. While Morton had told the Penobscot County Commissioners on Tuesday that he hoped to resume prisoner intake on March 8 or 9, he said Friday that the matter would be reviewed next week.
Some of the nation’s largest COVID-19 outbreaks have occurred in correctional facilities.
An outbreak at York County Jail last summer infected more than 80 inmates, staff and staff relatives after a correctional officer attended an Aug. 7 wedding on Millinocket Lake. A recent independent investigation into that outbreak found that correctional officers in the jail were not required to fill out symptom screenings before reporting to work or wear face coverings until the outbreak had already begun.
Shortly after the York County outbreak, an investigation of the state’s 14 other county jails by the Maine Department of Corrections found that some were not requiring staff or inmates to wear masks.
That report found that Penobscot County was enforcing mask use among staff, inmates, and visitors and screening staff and visitors for symptoms, though it also found that the jail did not have a diversion plan to send inmates elsewhere in the event of an outbreak.