Maine Correctional Center at Windham. Credit: BDN file photo

An outbreak at a state prison in Windham has grown to 72 inmates and nine staff members who tested positive for COVID-19.

The inmates, who lived in two units at the Maine Department of Corrections prison, have been housed in one unit as a precaution against the spread of the disease. They tested positive using rapid antigen tests that provide quick results. The vast majority are asymptomatic. Others display few symptoms, officials said Tuesday.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention began an outbreak investigation at the prison, which had 469 inmates in the general population as of May, on Oct. 27.

State prisons and jails have been of special interest because their congregate living conditions are ripe for viral invasion. Across the country, some of the nation’s largest coronavirus outbreaks happened in correctional facilities, but Maine avoided large correctional facility outbreaks until more recently. 

The Maine Correctional Center had an initial virus outbreak in May, though that was limited to four inmates who tested positive. Maine saw its first large jail outbreak this summer at the York County Jail, where more than 80 inmates, staff and their relatives tested positive after a jail employee attended an Aug. 7 wedding in the Millinocket region that was the spark for an outbreak that resulted in 180 cases in northern and southern Maine.

Even after the York County Jail outbreak had begun, a Department of Corrections survey of county jails showed that some of the state’s 14 other jails still weren’t requiring all staff, visitors and inmates to wear masks.

The 72 Maine Correctional Center inmates join three inmates at the state prison in Warren who have tested positive for COVID-19 through rapid antigen tests. The three, who reside in the same unit, are awaiting confirmation of their diagnoses through viral tests.

All prisoners and staff will be retested at both facilities as a precaution, officials said.