York County Jail COVID outbreak spreads to 20% of detainees, plus seven staffers

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ALFRED, Maine — One in five people currently detained at the York County Jail have tested positive recently for COVID-19, as the facility deals with its second major outbreak since the pandemic began.

Jail Administrator Maj. Nathan C. Thayer said Tuesday, Dec. 21, the virus has been detected in a total of 30 residents and seven staff members as the facility has conducted universal testing of residents and staff.

Sheriff Bill King said there were 149 detainees housed at the jail on Tuesday. The jail is continuing to book newly arrested people under existing intake modification guidelines, King said.

A total of 30 detainees and seven staff members at York County Jail in Alfred, Maine, have tested positive for COVID-19 in recent weeks, Jail Administrator Maj. Nathan C. Thayer said Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021.
A total of 30 detainees and seven staff members at York County Jail in Alfred, Maine, have tested positive for COVID-19 in recent weeks, Jail Administrator Maj. Nathan C. Thayer said Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021.

Thayer had first announced in an internal memo Dec. 10 that one staffer and five detainees housed in that staffer's unit had tested positive for the virus. The residents were moved to the jail's medical wing alongside an additional detainee who had tested positive during intake, he wrote.

Targeted testing revealed additional cases, so the jail has since completed two rounds of universal testing, Thayer said Tuesday, in written answers provided by King.

Some have experienced mild cold-like symptoms, but "a large number" of the cases have involved no symptoms whatsoever, Thayer said. Although the medical staff has been keeping an eye on COVID-positive residents and checking their temperatures daily, no one has required medical intervention, he said.

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Thayer said the jail is continuing to follow strict COVID safety protocols and coordinate with the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Maine Department of Corrections.

"We have been fortunate at the jail because the county is conducting our own PCR testing and we are receiving results that day," he said. "Many of the counties are not receiving their results for five to six days, which becomes nearly impossible to get ahead of the spreading virus. We have had a quick response and I feel that we have it contained, but time will tell."

The outbreak comes as the nation braces for the impacts of the omicron variant, which has been detected in 89 countries and 43 U.S. states, including Maine.

York County Jail staff were already required to wear masks, but when a staff member tested positive, the jail required all staff to wear an N95 or Envo mask, Thayer said last week. Prior to their shift, every staff member must complete a COVID-19 self certification health screening in the lobby, a process that includes mandatory temperature checks, he said.

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Detainees are required to wear cloth masks, but compliance with this requirement "has been a challenge at times," since jail residents do not always wish to follow rules, Thayer said.

Thayer, who said last week he believes his team has been proactive and caught this outbreak as quickly as possible, was hired as the permanent York County Jail administrator about three months ago. He had stepped in as acting administrator over the summer in light of Capt. Dan Bean's resignation.

Lawsuit filed: Fired jailkeeper Michael Vitiello sues York County to get his job back

Bean, who has been credited with steering the jail through a major COVID-19 outbreak last year, served as acting administrator while long-time administrator Lt. Col. Michael Vitiello was on paid administrative leave. Vitiello was ultimately fired in July over his handling of the 2020 outbreak, though he has filed a wrongful termination lawsuit to challenge the decision.

Cellblock COVID: Inmate's view of York County Jail outbreak

The jail's first outbreak – which was linked to 48 cases of the virus among detainees, 18 among staff and 16 among household contacts of staff – is believed to have stemmed from a corrections officer being allowed to work five full shifts while symptomatic after attending an August 2020 wedding in Millinocket that has since been identified as a so-called "super-spreader" event.

This article originally appeared on Portsmouth Herald: Maine jail COVID outbreak spreads to 1 in 5 detainees, plus 7 staffers

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