The Knox County Jail is seen in this 2016 file photo. Credit: Ashley L. Conti / BDN

Five corrections officers and two inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 at the Knox County Jail in Rockland — the first outbreak for the jail since the pandemic began.

The first positive case was detected over the weekend. The jail is currently waiting on test results for the remainder of staff and inmates at the prison, according to Knox County Sheriff Tim Carroll. Those results are expected to be available on Wednesday.

This is the first that the jail has had to grapple with an outbreak since the pandemic began nearly two years ago. While numerous outbreaks have occurred at county jails and correctional facilities across the state, Carroll credits jail staff and safety protocols for keeping the pandemic out of the jail this long. The latest variant, however, has made it challenging, he said.  

“I think with the omicron [variant], obviously we see it everywhere, the numbers are up so high. Unfortunately it was bound to happen, I think, I hate to put it that way but we did hold it off for about 22 months,” Carroll said.

At this point, the jail is still accepting new arrests, Carroll said, but the sheriff’s office has communicated with local police agencies to focus arrests on people who pose public safety risks rather than less serious offenses.

The 70-bed jail currently is housing 40 inmates. The facility has been undergoing HVAC system work and an additional 40 Knox County Jail inmates are being held at the Two Bridges Regional Jail in Wiscasset.

The outbreak hits the facility at a time when it is already struggling with a staffing shortage. Carroll said the jail has about 10 vacancies for corrections officers. With five guards testing positive, the jail only has 14 people who are able to work.

At this point, the jail has enough staff coverage to get by, according to Carroll. But if more officers test positive, the jail may need to further restrict movement inside of the facility or partner with other local jails to have inmates held there.