Two Bridges Regional Jail in Wiscasset will “strongly encourage” — but not require — staff to get vaccinated for COVID-19 after a slew of COVID-19 cases hit the jail in recent months.

The jail authority approved a directive Wednesday that acts as a “soft mandate to COVID-19 vaccinations,” according to Correctional Administrator James Bailey. Employees will fill out forms indicating whether they’ve been vaccinated and if not, why not. Bailey said if an employee’s reasoning for not getting vaccinated meets Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, “we want to make sure we’re offering accommodations to that individual.”

In addition to encouraging vaccines, the directive states the jail will not compensate unvaccinated employees for time spent outside work due to COVID-19 if they refused the vaccine.

“Our position is, if they say, ‘I’m just not going to get vaccinated’ … we are under no obligation to give them any accommodations at all,” said Bailey. “If they’re not vaccinated and exposed here, the Maine CDC guidelines still tell us that we need to send them home for 14 days and that time won’t be compensated. If they test positive, that time will not be compensated.”

The new directive also states unvaccinated employees must wear a face mask and maintain at least 6 feet of space from others, whereas vaccinated employees can remove their masks when outside jail facilities.

Bailey estimated at most 10-15% of the jail’s 38 employees were still unvaccinated as of Wednesday.

Vaccines also are optional for inmates. Bailey said about 65-75% of the jail’s 66 inmates have received the vaccine.

“I believe we’re in a good position as far as our vaccinated inmates, and our staff, but we can always do better,” he said.

Bailey said he chose not to require staff to get vaccinated because “COVID-19 could be around forever or it could be gone tomorrow, we don’t know.”

“With a directive, I can keep renewing it until I don’t need it anymore instead of changing policy,” said Bailey.

Bailey said he hopes encouraging employees to get vaccinated will help protect other workers and inmates because it cuts down on the “revolving door” of employees.

“From my seat, while I want all employees vaccinated, I also want employees,” said Bailey. “The unvaccinated employees are leaving and coming in and, without knowing for sure, I think that’s how we started our outbreak.”

Just last month Two Bridges, which serves Sagadahoc and Lincoln counties and also has a contract with Oxford County to house inmates, reported approximately 41 cases, causing the facility to offer vaccines to inmates and employees.

As of Thursday, the jail didn’t have any COVID-19 cases, according to Bailey. Regardless, he said another vaccine clinic will be offered for inmates and employees on Friday.

“We’re doing well,” said Bailey. “We’ve made some changes with our procedures and the screening process and everyone has been pretty accepting of the vaccines. We had the outbreak, which was unfortunate, but we had the situation, learned from it, and we’re stronger now.”

Bailey said the jail shed it’s outbreak status, given by the Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on May 21.

Most recently, a new inmate tested positive upon entering the facility two weeks ago, but they were isolated for 14 days and permitted to re-enter the general population when they tested negative earlier this week.

According to the state’s vaccine website, more than 70% of Lincoln County’s eligible population had received the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine as of Thursday.

Lincoln County also held the fourth-lowest COVID-19 case number in the state with 1,078 probable and confirmed cases and three deaths since March 2020, the Maine CDC reported Thursday.

Statewide, 68,717 people have tested positive for COVID-19 and 854 Mainers have died as of Thursday, according to the Maine CDC.


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