By MIKE DONOGHUE
Islander Staff Writer
ST. ALBANS TOWN -- The number of positive tests at the Northwest State Correctional Facility in St. Albans Town has increased to 32 inmates and 14 staff members, the Vermont Corrections Department reported on Friday afternoon.
The news came several hours after Gov. Phil Scott announced the extension to his Vermont State of Emergency declaration through May 15. The order, which had been expected to expire next Wednesday, April 15, covers all corresponding orders and directives issued in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last Friday, under questioning from The Islander, Scott had disclosed the extension was coming, but declined to say for how long. Scott said he wanted to get the latest information about when the deadly virus would peak in Vermont. Vermont schools also remain dismissed for in-person instruction through the end of the academic year.
The Governor said today it remains essential for people to stay at home, but he did agree to allow the hotel and lodging industry to begin taking reservations for guests and events for June 15 and later. That is good news for the Champlain Islands, which depends on the tourist and wedding trade.
Scott also agreed to extend for 60 days the motor vehicle inspections that are due by the end of this month because people are expected to stay inside under his “Stay Home, Stay Safe” Executive Order.
(See the post below from earlier today on The Islander website about Scott’s extension order.)
Vermont’s Interim Corrections Commissioner James Baker said the new test numbers for inmates and staff reflect the latest information the state had received. He said the state had conducted 328 tests on inmates and staff at the St. Albans Town prison after an inmate tested positive earlier this week. He said results are still needed for a small number of pending tests.
The state had reported 29 inmates initially had tested positive at the prison as of Thursday afternoon.
Human Services Secretary Mike Smith said Friday that 28 had been transferred to a St. Johnsbury prison that was set up to handle prisoners that had tested positive. He said one inmate remained at St. Albans in isolation due to a discipline issue.
The three additional inmates that tested positive also have been placed in isolation in St. Albans.
The prison staff members that tested positive have been directed to stay at home in self-quarantine or the state has been willing to put them up at a hotel.
Baker said none of the inmates have exhibited any signs that they need hospitalization.
He did say one staff member at the St. Albans had a serious episode and that the state was “fearful we were going to lose him” last weekend.
Baker did not identify the staff member, but paid honor to him and his family for the sacrifice.
“He is doing much better,” Baker said.
The St. Johnsbury prison is an 80-bed facility and Baker said it can handle up to 55 patients medically during the COVID-19 crisis. The state began to ship inmates out of that facility in March when it became apparent that the department would need a surge site.
The St. Albans prison remains on lockdown, which means that inmates remain in their cells and they have meals and medications delivered to them, Baker said. The other Vermont prisons are in modified lockdown, which means the inmates are allowed out of their cells in small numbers for short periods while keeping social distances.
Baker also explained that the COVID-19 tests were relayed by Vermont State Police and Massachusetts State Police to a lab in Boston to allow for the quick turn around on the results.
(Check back regularly for daily news updates on the impact the COVID-19 virus is having on the Grand Isle County area.)