State epidemiologists have closed their investigation into a COVID-19 outbreak at the Penobscot County Jail, as the facility has gone at least two weeks without a new case of the virus, according to a Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention spokesperson.
Some 26 people ultimately tested positive for the virus as part of the outbreak, but all have since recovered, Sheriff Troy Morton said Tuesday. The 26 cases included 14 among inmates and 12 among employees and affiliates of the jail, the sheriff has said.
The Maine CDC closes most outbreak investigations after 14 days without a new case linked to the outbreak, agency spokesperson Robert Long said Tuesday.
The outbreak was detected in late February, with the first cases among correctional officers.
During the outbreak, the jail stopped taking in new arrestees, forcing police throughout the county to bring people they arrested to jails in other counties and forcing Penobscot County Jail to board more than two dozen inmates at other jails. Morton said Tuesday that the jail has resumed taking in all arrestees and is in the process of returning boarded inmates to the Bangor facility, license to hold 157.
Of the 125 inmates housed at the jail on Tuesday, 11 have been sentenced to the Maine Department of Corrections but can’t be moved to the Maine State Prison due to a COVID-19 outbreak at that facility, the sheriff said during a meeting of the county commissioners. Until those prisoners can be moved, some of the 49 inmates boarded at other jails will remain where they are.
Members of an advocacy group that opposes a proposal to build a new jail again spoke during the public comment portion of Tuesday’s meeting and urged the sheriff and commissioners to implement more programs that divert people from jail and provide more support to inmates with substance use disorders and mental health diagnoses.
Larry Dansinger and Melissa Berkey suggested that the county use some of the $29.5 million it will receive this year and next from the latest aid package from the U.S. Congress to create restorative justice, rehabilitation and other programs that reduce the number of people incarcerated at the jail.
County Commission Chairman Peter Baldacci said the money must be used to offset expenses incurred due to the pandemic, not for ongoing programming. Commissioner Laura Sanborn and Treasurer John Hiatt suggested that because of the COVID-19 outbreak at the jail and among county staff, the cost of an air purifying system for the jail and the Historic Courthouse, where county offices are located, might be an allowable expense.
Commissioners agreed to consult with Penobscot County cities and towns and local organizations, such as Penquis and Eastern Maine Development Corporation, to assess their needs so they can distribute the funds where they will do the most good.