Two Bridges Regional Jail in Wiscasset had only one active cases of COVID-19 as of Monday after more than 40 inmates and staff tested positive in August and September.

The jail’s final active case — an employee — is scheduled to finish their 10-day isolation Tuesday, according to Two Bridges Correctional Administrator James Bailey. Another inmate finished their isolation period over the weekend.

If no other new cases arise in the jail’s next round of universal testing later this week, Bailey said he expects the facility’s outbreak status will be lifted by the end of the week.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention defines an outbreak of COVID-19 as three cases or more within a 14-day period, according to the center’s website.

Two Bridges’ outbreak began on Aug. 10, said Bailey. Eleven people within the jail tested positive for COVID-19 in August and 31 people have tested positive so far this month, totaling 42 cases, five of which were staff members.

During the outbreak, all non-essential programming at the jail stopped and visitors were not allowed inside the facility, said Bailey.

Though he doesn’t know how COVID-19 got into the jail, Bailey said cases were “isolated to one specific housing unit, so it likely came from someone in that one unit, either an inmate or staff member.”

Bailey estimated about 75-80% of jail’s 42 staff members are vaccinated whereas about 50-60% of inmates were vaccinated as of Monday. The percentage of vaccinated inmates, however, changes frequently as inmates move in and out of the jail on a daily basis. Two Bridges offers vaccines to any inmate who wants one, Bailey said.

Two Bridges has inmates from Sagadahoc, Lincoln, Oxford, Knox and Penobscot counties.

The jail does not require employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19 but has a “soft mandate” in place that “strongly encourages” employees to get vaccinated, said Bailey.

According to the policy, adopted in June, employees who choose to get vaccinated don’t have to wear a mask when outdoors while unvaccinated employees must remain masked at all times. The jail will also compensate vaccinated employees for any time spent outside work due to COVID-19, while unvaccinated employees won’t be compensated if they need to quarantine due to testing positive or getting exposed to COVID-19.

This is the second COVID-19 outbreak the jail has experienced since the beginning of the pandemic last year.

In April and May, 41 people within Two Bridges tested positive for COVID-19, six of which were staff members.

Though this outbreak has had the same number of cases as the first outbreak, Bailey said the jail also has about double the inmates it had compared to jail’s average population of 70 inmates in April.

“Our average daily population for this outbreak has been around 130-140 inmates,” said Bailey. “Forty-two cases sounds like a lot, but this outbreak went relatively well. I think we’ve done well to isolate the outbreak.”

To help prevent COVID-19 from spreading, Bailey said all inmates are placed in quarantine and tested for COVID-19 upon arrival before entering the facility’s general population.

Bailey said the jail isn’t able to move people out of Two Bridges to the inmate population low because “There’s nowhere else to send them.”

“Everyone’s populations are high right now,” said Bailey. “We’re getting into the colder months and usually in jails you’ll see a spike in populations during the colder months. Every year we see that increase in population.”

Regardless, Sagadahoc County Sheriff Joel Merry said officers are working to divert people away from jail when possible by issuing court summonses instead of arrests when appropriate.

“There are a few considerations to take into account, but if the crime committed is a non-violent misdemeanor, a summons to a future court date is almost always used,” said Merry. “ In cases in which a person is arrested for a non-violent crime, then every attempt to get them bailed is used.”

Merry said those who are held in jail are people who have committed a serious or violent crime or have repeatedly violated conditions of release from a previous arrest or charge.

Since March 2020, the jail has seen 84 COVID-19 in total, according to Bailey. He said the jail’s only COVID-19 cases have come from the two outbreaks rather than a smattering of one or two cases reported every few weeks.

Lincoln County, where the jail is located, has the third-lowest number of total COVID-19 cases, perched just above Piscataquis and Washington counties, according to state data.

As of Monday, 1,504 people in Lincoln County have tested positive since the beginning of the pandemic and four have died, according to the Maine CDC.

Statewide, 87,189 Mainers have tested positive since March 2020 and 1,014 have died as of Monday.

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