By MIKE DONOGHUE,
Islander Staff Writer
ST. ALBANS -- Two more staff members at the Northwest State Correctional Facility in St. Albans Town have tested positive for COVID-19, the Vermont Corrections Department said Saturday evening.
Test results are pending for nine other prison staff members in St. Albans.
That means 32 inmates and 16 staffers have positive tests that were provided earlier this week after one inmate tested positive on April 8.
The Vermont Department of Corrections (DOC) and Department of Health worked to test 328 inmates and staff at the Northwest State Correctional Facility (NWSCF).
In an effort to thwart the spread of the virus, DOC prepared to use the Northeast Correctional Complex (NECC) as a surge location for inmates who test positive.
The department sent 28 out of the 29 inmates with the positive tests to NECC in St. Johnsbury. One inmate, who was facing disciplinary issues, remained in isolation in St. Albans, DOC said.
Three other inmates with more recent positive tests remain at NWSCF in negative pressure rooms.
The prison staff that tested positive were directed to quarantine at home or are able to self-quarantine at an isolation site arranged by the state in Chittenden County.
“We have been carefully monitoring the spread of the virus and made preparations for a surge location,” Commissioner of Corrections Jim Baker said.
“The situation changes by the hour, and while we hoped we would never have to use the surge location, on Thursday we put our plan into action and moved the appropriate inmates to NECC,” he said.
Baker said on Friday that the department is making staffing adjustments to ensure that there is proper coverage inside the prison.
The Corrections Department worked with the legislature since last month to set up the St. Johnsbury surge site. The St. Johnsbury prison allowed the DOC to provide single-bed cells for impacted inmates and for medical staffing.
The 65 inmates who were previously in the work camp portion of the facility, were relocated to other facilities across the state, prior to any COVID positive inmates arriving from NWSCF.
The 28 inmates from St. Albans moved to NECC are showing no signs of the disease, the DOC said. None of the inmates require hospital level of care.
If inmates placed at NECC develop symptoms that require hospital level care they will be transported to the University of Vermont Medical Center instead of being sent locally to the Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital in St. Johnsbury.
Consistent with the plans put in place in consultation with the Vermont Department of Health (VDH), the St. Johnsbury staff has been trained in protocols to mitigate any spread to staff when interacting with the COVID positive inmates, the DOC said.
The staff at NECC have personal protective equipment (PPE) and have created different areas across the facility where PPE is and isn't required to be worn, the DOC said in a news release.
Those steps are designed for the health and safety of the staff and inmates, the DOC said. It will also allow staff to have spaces to take a break and not need to wear PPE.
Staff and inmates have been provided protective masks and everyone inside the facilities will be required to wear a mask at all times.