A COVID-19 outbreak at the Androscoggin County Jail has sent half of the jail’s support staff into quarantine.
Three officers in the Auburn jail’s support staff have tested positive for COVID-19 in the last two weeks, the Sun Journal reported. Two of the officers came back positive for the virus shortly after Halloween, while a third tested positive on Nov. 5. All are in quarantine.
The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention told Androscoggin County Sheriff Eric Samson on Tuesday that the three cases would be classified as an outbreak within the facility, and the agency would begin contact tracing to determine how the officers were infected, the Sun Journal reported.
The outbreak is the first time a COVID-19 case has been detected within the jail, though none of the jail’s inmates are confirmed to have the virus. Samson told the Sun Journal that most of the jail’s 148 inmates have been tested for the virus.
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The outbreak comes a month after 28 of the jail’s prisoners went on hunger strike to protest what they viewed as inadequate safety precautions against COVID-19. Inmates were particularly concerned about the availability of testing and the inability to socially distance within their units.
That strike ended after Samson promised mass testing, pending approval from the Maine CDC. Since the pandemic hit Maine in March, the jail had only tested inmates under special circumstances, including if they had shown symptoms of the virus.
Group settings like prisons and jails can allow the virus to spread quickly, especially if health precautions are not taken. Nationally, 169,286 people in correctional facilities have tested positive for the virus since March, according to The Marshall Project, which has been tracking COVID-19 cases in American state and federal prisons.
With 79 cases, Maine ranked as having the 10th lowest rate in the country. Most of those cases came from an August outbreak at the York County Jail in Alfred that ultimately saw 48 inmates and 19 members of jail staff test positive for the virus.
Of Maine’s 16 counties, only Cumberland County has seen a higher COVID-19 rate than Androscoggin. It has seen 1,081 confirmed and probable cases as of Thursday, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Of those, 219 cases are active.