York County Jail officials have written and implemented a new Pandemic Control Plan following a COVID-19 outbreak at the jail earlier this year that impacted corrections staff and inmates alike, and has earned praise from the Department of Corrections for their efforts. York County Sheriff William King said all of Maine’s 15 jails were required by the DOC to craft a plan following the outbreak. Tammy Wells Photo

ALFRED — The Maine Department of Corrections has praised the efforts of officials at York County Jail for a pandemic response plan they crafted and put into action following a coronavirus outbreak at the jail in the late summer and fall that impacted inmates and corrections staff.

The outbreak was declared cleared by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention on Oct. 12. The Maine CDC pegged the total number of cases associated with the jail outbreak at 87, which includes 48 inmates, 19 corrections officers and other staff, and 20 household contacts of employees, according to an Oct. 23 Portland Press Herald report.

The DOC required all 15 Maine jails to craft and submit a Pandemic Control Plan after the outbreak, said York County Sheriff William King.

York County Sheriff William King Courtesy Photo

“In spending some time reviewing their (plan), as well as visiting the facility, it appears that they have learned a lot from that experience and are very serious about implementing policies and procedures to minimize the risk of another outbreak,” Adult Regional Correctional Manager Michael Lyon wrote following his Nov. 6 visit to the jail.

“I was impressed with their eagerness to learn more and work with MDOC as well as other agencies to share information and support each other during these challenging times,” said Lyon of conversations he had with King and Captains Daniel Bean and Carl Ronco. “Overall, this reviewer was impressed with the steps they have taken to thwart another outbreak as well as the direction they are heading in.”

At the time Lyon visited, the plan was in draft form, but he noted most of it had already been implemented. Last week, King said the plan, written by Bean, is complete, except for a tabletop drill set for January, and has been approved by the DOC.

In his report, Lyon said the plan addresses how transfers would be made if inmates needed to be moved to another facility; a diversion plan if the jail was unable to receive new inmates; staffing to accommodate inmate hospital stays if required; testing procedures, and the like.

Lyon’s report outlined the jail’s COVID-19 screening procedure for staff and incoming inmates, quarantine procedures, medical response, food service protocols, sanitation, communications, mask wearing, and the availability of information on hand washing, cough etiquette and the like.

Lyon said the facility reported that face masks were required for staff, inmates, visitors, contractors and others, and that inmates were provided with three cloth masks each, and could request replacements if needed.

“During my visit I was impressed with their screening process, their implementation and enforcement of mask wearing and encouraging social distance,” Lyon wrote. “Both staff and inmates appeared to be taking the protocols seriously. In speaking with (staff and inmates), it was unanimous that they felt YCJ was taking every step possible to keep the facility clean and safe from future outbreaks. ”

Prior to the outbreak, masks weren’t required, and the Press Herald story, citing interviews and emails they had received, indicated most inmates were not allowed to wear masks and staff was discouraged from doing so, so as not to create panic among inmates.

Overall, Maine Department of Corrections staff who participated in the review of Maine’s 15 county jails were pleased with the level of progress made by jails to plan for and manage the pandemic, said DOC Director of Government Affairs Anna Black.

Prior to the outbreak, York County Jail had a general policy that pertained to the isolation of inmates with contagious diseases, but nothing specific to COVID-19, King said. As of Dec. 9, there had been one positive case of COVID-19 since the end of the outbreak, he said.

York County Jail in Alfred is currently housing about 100 inmates, though the county has a contract to house additional inmates at Cumberland County Jail in Portland that predates the pandemic.

There have been COVID-19 outbreaks elsewhere in the corrections system. Black reported that a total of 17 staff had tested positive for coronavirus at the state-operated Maine Correctional Center in Windham, with 13 recoveries, and 143 inmates had tested positive, though none were positive as of the Dec. 11 report.

On Dec. 14, Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce reported that four jail employees had tested positive for COVID-19.

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