AUBURN — Inmates testing positive for COVID-19 and slower-than-normal test results from the state are hampering the booking process at Androscoggin County Jail, administrators said.

Sheriff Eric Samson said all new arrestees coming into the jail are put in holding cells before being allowed into the general population. The inmates are tested for COVID-19 while in the holding cells. If their results are negative, they are put in general population. If their tests come back positive for the novel coronavirus, they continue to be quarantined in the holding area with other inmates who have tested positive.

There are 19 beds in the holding areas. When four inmates tested positive a couple of weeks ago, they were put in an area with eight beds, leaving the other four beds vacant because only inmates who tested positive could be housed there, Samson said.

Making matters worse, instead of the typical one-day turnaround for testing from the Maine Center for Disease Control in the past, it has taken days longer to return test results to the jail, at least in part, because they haven’t been running tests on weekends and holidays, Samson said.

He said around Labor Day he became aware of the backlog from tests sent to the state lab in August.

Samson said police departments have been understanding and have been working with the jail to issue summonses whenever possible instead of bringing a suspect to booking.

Although the jail’s total capacity is 160 beds and only roughly 142 are occupied, those numbers include the holding cells, he said.

There may be beds in the general population that are free, but if the holding cells are full with new inmates, it creates a bottleneck, he said.

In order to get COVID-19 test results back more quickly to try to relieve the blockage in holding, Samson said the jail recently spent $600 to send the tests to a private lab in order to free up beds in the holding area so they could receive more inmates brought in by law enforcement.

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