The COVID-19 outbreak at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham has grown to 81 confirmed cases, the state Department of Corrections said Tuesday.

The department said 72 inmates and nine staff members have tested positive using rapid antigen tests.

The vast majority of infected inmates are asymptomatic. Only a few – no exact number was provided – have reported mild symptoms, the state said.

The outbreak at the Maine Correctional Center is one of the largest single-site outbreaks in Maine since March. The largest so far at a corrections facility in Maine was an outbreak in August at the York County Jail.

A total of 87 positive COVID-19 cases, including 48 inmates, 19 people jail employees, and 20 household contacts of jail employees, were reported at the York County Jail in August. Health officials believe the outbreak started when a jail employee attended an Aug. 7 wedding in the Millinocket region that the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention has since classified as a superspreader event linked to at least 170 cases.

Interviews and a review of an internal document obtained by the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram revealed that the York County Jail flouted public health recommendations regarding the use of face masks before the outbreak spread to the jail population, staff and eventually into the community.

Universal testing at the Maine Correctional Center showed the disease was contained to two housing units at the Windham facility. The state said it will now house all those inmates in one unit.

The Maine Correctional Center is designed to hold a maximum of 440 male inmates and another 96 women at an adjacent facility known as the Southern Maine Women’s Re-Entry Center, according to the department’s website. Last week, there were 480 people incarcerated at the two facilities.

The corrections department did not specify in what part of the prison complex the outbreak occurred or break down the positive tests by gender. Maine Corrections Commissioner Randall Liberty was unavailable for comment Tuesday night.

Corrections officials first acknowledged the presence of the virus at the Windham facility last week after three employees tested positive. Liberty told the Press Herald that he was not certain how the virus entered the prison. But the infections led to universal rapid testing of all inmates and staff.

“It could have come many different ways, but we work very hard at requiring face masks, requiring enhanced hygiene, social distancing,” Liberty said last week.

After Tuesday’s report that the outbreak had spread, the corrections department said it plans to continue retesting inmates and staff for the rest of this week.

In addition to the outbreak in Windham, three inmates at the Maine State Prison in Warren have tested positive for COVID-19. All three live in the same prison unit. Three staff members at the Maine State Prison have also tested positive for the virus.  The prison plans to retest staff and inmates through the rest of the week.

Because of the outbreaks, the corrections department has suspended all in-person visits to correctional facilities through the rest of November.


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