Six staff members at the Penobscot County Jail have tested positive for COVID-19, though no inmates have tested positive so far, Sheriff Troy Morton said Tuesday.
The first case was discovered this past weekend when a correctional officer tested positive. Other staff members considered to be close contacts were asked to stay home from work, Morton said.
“Obviously that puts a tremendous strain on staff, but we’d rather be safe than sorry,” Morton said Tuesday during a county commissioners’ meeting.
Newly arrested inmates in Penobscot County could be sent instead to Hancock and Piscataquis county jails over the next 10 to 14 days, the sheriff said.
The jail has tested 73 inmates for COVID-19 this month, Morton said, with 32 of those tests happening over the past five days. None of those tests has come back positive.
The jail had 162 inmates on Tuesday, according to Morton. Asked whether the jail planned to test all inmates for the virus, Morton said the jail would follow guidance from the state Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We have and will continue to conduct the current testing processes,” he said.
No inmates so far have been found to be close contacts of those who tested positive, Morton said.
Across the country, some of the nation’s largest coronavirus outbreaks have happened in correctional facilities.
Maine saw its first large jail outbreak last 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 sparked 180 cases across much of Maine. A recently completed outside investigation confirmed that York County correctional officers weren’t required to wear face coverings until after the outbreak had begun. Officers also weren’t required to go through symptom screenings when they reported for work.
Following the York County outbreak, a Maine Department of Corrections inspection of the state’s 14 other county jails found that some of those jails still weren’t requiring mask-wearing more than a week after the York County Jail outbreak had begun.
The state inspection, however, found that the Penobscot County Jail was screening staff and visitors for symptoms, and requiring that inmates, employees and visitors wear masks.
Forty-nine percent of jail staff have received their first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, and they are scheduled to receive their second dose next week, Morton said.