Two weeks after York County launched an inquiry into a COVID-19 outbreak at the county jail in Alfred, officials are still refusing to disclose any information about who is conducting that inquiry and how the virus spread to nearly half of the inmates and correctional officers.

The outbreak is the largest so far at a Maine correctional facility during the pandemic.

County Manager Greg Zinser has repeatedly declined to say who the county hired to conduct an internal investigation of the outbreak. He also has refused to say whether the jail administrator is on administrative leave, even though the deputy is now overseeing daily jail operations. He said Friday that he was looking into whether that information is public under Maine’s Freedom of Access Act.

“I’m still declining to give out that information at this point in time,” Zinser said Friday. “I will be reviewing that with the county’s counsel.”

Sheriff Bill King had made few public statements since he told the Portland Press Herald three weeks ago that masks were not required most of the time for inmates and correctional officers. He was not part of a news conference on Zoom earlier this month when Zinser announced the inquiry into the outbreak. Seacoast Online reported this week that he gave a brief update to the county commissioners during a meeting but did not answer a reporter’s question about the jail administrator. The sheriff did not respond to a voicemail Friday afternoon.

The county commissioners have at least twice gone into executive session to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic or personnel issues with the sheriff, according to minutes from their meetings in August and September. The public portion of their meetings has included little discussion of the outbreaks at the jail or elsewhere.

The state has traced the outbreak to a jail employee who attended an Aug. 7 wedding and reception in the Millinocket region that has been connected to 177 cases statewide and seven deaths. Nearly two weeks later, the first person from the jail tested positive for the virus. The county launched universal testing in the facility and learned dozens of people were infected.

The number of cases has fluctuated over multiple rounds of testing, but a spokesman for the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention said the total number of cases associated with the outbreak is 84. That includes 48 inmates, 18 jail employees, one additional individual who works in the building and 17 household contacts of employees. As of Friday, the agency classified eight of those household contacts as confirmed cases and nine as probable.

The CDC spokesman said he is not aware of any hospitalizations connected to the jail outbreak. He provided little new information about the state’s own investigation.

“Retesting is ongoing as part of standard outbreak response,” Robert Long wrote in an email. “Maine CDC continues to investigate potential routes of transmission throughout the facility.”

The county manager said a third party has been collecting documents and conducting interviews as part of the internal inquiry. He said he still could not speak about what the policies were at the jail before the outbreak, despite the sheriff’s comments.

“I cannot speculate on what was actually occurring down there,” Zinser said. “That’s where I’m hoping the inquiry will reveal what was going on, what was the thought process, how did these events unfold.”

Zinser said Friday that most inmates and employees who tested positive for COVID-19 have completed their required quarantine. He expected the last four inmates to be transferred out of the medical unit by Saturday, and the last employee who was out due to COVID-19 to return by Monday. No one has been hospitalized during the outbreak, he said, and no inmates are currently experiencing symptoms.

Zinser said a medical vendor at the jail tested positive for the virus this week. An outbreak is not closed until there have been no new cases for two incubation periods – 28 days – so that new case will reset the clock for the jail.

“That is our first positive in a couple weeks,” Zinser said.

The number of people incarcerated at the York County Jail has dropped from more than 100 to 88. Zinser said most have been released on bail in recent weeks with instructions from the CDC. The Cumberland County Jail is still accepting people who are newly arrested in York County, and Zinser said he did not expect that arrangement to change until the outbreak is closed, which will be October at the earliest.

The jail considered moving female inmates who tested negative to another jail in order to close their small pod and alleviate staffing concerns during the outbreak, but Zinser said none has been transferred to another facility. The Times Record reported this week that Two Bridges Regional Jail in Wiscasset had rejected those inmates due to concerns about the outbreak.

“We’ll have to continue testing, which is fine,” Zinser said. “We’ll go from there.”

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