Crime and Justice

Third new inmate tests Covid-19 positive; Rutland down six officers due to exposure

Mike Smith and Phil Scott
Michael Smith, Agency of Human Services secretary, said a new prisoner intake system is being instituted as a result of the recent positive tests involving new inmates. Photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

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A prisoner at the Northwest Regional Correctional Facility in St. Albans has tested positive for the coronavirus, the third time in recent days that a new admission into the state’s prison system tested positive for Covid-19.

Rutland City Police, an agency that arrested one of those inmates, also now has six officers out of work as they await word on tests conducted following their exposure to that person. 

Michael Smith, Agency of Human Services secretary, said as a result of those recent positive tests involving new inmates at three different correctional facilities, change was underway. 

“Our greatest threat with our correctional facilities right now are new intakes coming in,” Smith said, adding, “We have discovered that we really need to change our intake method, we’re putting too many facilities at risk.”

He said the department is working on developing a system that quarantines new inmates at one or two facilities in the state until they are determined to be Covid-19 free. Currently, new inmates are quarantined in one of the six facilities.

A new inmate at Northwest Regional is the latest prisoner to test positive, Smith said during a press conference Wednesday held by Gov. Phil Scott to discuss updates to the state’s Covid-19 response. 

On Saturday, a new inmate at the state’s only women prison, the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility in South Burlington, tested positive for the coronavirus. And last week, a new inmate at the Marble Valley Regional Correctional Facility in Rutland tested positive.

Smith, at the press conference Wednesday, said blanket testing of all inmates and staff has taken place at both Marble Valley and Chittenden Regional. No new positive cases were detected at the Rutland facility following the mass testing there Saturday, Smith said, while the results from the women’s prison testing are expected to be available Thursday. 

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Smith said it has not yet been determined if mass testing of all inmates and staff at Northwest Regional, the site of the most recent positive test, will take place. He said the inmate who tested positive there was quarantined in a single cell throughout his time at the facility.

“We’ do an investigation on this just to make sure there wasn’t any exposure,” Smith said. “If we felt there was exposure, the whole facility would be tested.”

The latest case at Northwest Regional was detected following a positive test result returned Tuesday, June 23, Smith said. That prisoner, Smith said, came into the facility on June 13, was tested June 19, and on June 20 that test came back negative. The inmate, Smith added, was tested again June 22, and it came back positive a day later.

The recent run of new admissions testing positive at three separate facilities follows the completion more than a week ago of mass testing of all inmates and staff throughout the six prisons in Vermont. At that time, there were no identified coronavirus cases in the state’s correctional facilities.

The latest positive case at Northwest Regional is not the first for that facility. In April, an outbreak at the St. Albans facility resulted in a total of 45 inmates testing positive for Covid-19, an outbreak that did not lead to any deaths. 

Rutland down six officers after arrest

Commander Gregory Sheldon of the Rutland City Police Department said his department was notified on Saturday that a woman it arrested had tested positive for Covid-19. \

He said a total of eight officers had some form of contact with the woman during the arrest, booking, and transport process. Two of the officers, Sheldon said, were told by medical professionals that since they had “low-risk exposure,” they were allowed to go back to return work.

The Rutland police headquarters. File photo by Andrew Kutches/VTDigger

“Six of them were required to be out until receiving negative test results,” Sheldon said, adding those results are pending. The officers remain in quarantine and out of work, he said.

Rutland City officers arrested the woman on June 17 in a downtown city parking lot in connection with a stolen vehicle investigation. Sheldon said a record check showed the woman, whose name was not immediately available, had warrants out for her arrest from Pennsylvania. 

Officers tried to take the woman to the Rutland jail, but were told by staff there that since they already had an “active Covid case” there they weren’t accepting new prisoners, Sheldon said. 

As a result, he said, city police transported her to the Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield. 

Sheldon said the officers who had contact with the woman were wearing masks, and she refused to put one on. “They provided her with a mask but she didn’t want to wear it,” he said. “It’s not easy to make someone wear a mask if they don’t want to.”  

The department, he said, currently has a total of 36 officers, which is reduced to 30 with the six officers out. “We shuffled some people around and backfilled with overtime,” Sheldon said.    

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Rachel Feldman, a spokesperson for the state Department of Corrections, said the woman inmate who tested positive for Covid-19 at Chittenden Regional had initially been taken to the Springfield prison. That’s because, Feldman said, Springfield prison was the closest facility other than Rutland to where the woman was taken into custody. 

The woman was then transferred to the women’s prison in South Burlington the following day.

There is not expected to be mass testing of inmates and staff at the Springfield facility, where the woman was first housed. 

“All staff that that inmate came in contact with were in proper PPE,” Feldman said. “In addition, because of the fact that this is a female inmate, she didn’t have contact with any inmates.” 

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