Health Care

Covid-19 outbreak at St. Johnsbury prison increases to 16 total cases

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A sign shows the way to the Northeast Correctional Center in St. Johnsbury. Photo by Justin Trombly/VTDigger

The Covid-19 outbreak at St. Johnsbury prison has grown, with a total of 16 incarcerated individuals now having tested positive for the virus.

“I think we all just got notices about an outbreak in St. Johnsbury,” Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington and vice-chair of the Joint Legislative Justice Oversight Committee, said during a meeting Friday of that panel. 

Sears called for corrections officials to come to the committee’s meeting next week to discuss the matter, particularly in light of staffing shortages among correctional officers. The committee’s chair, Rep. Alice Emmons, D-Springfield, agreed. 

“Given the staffing problems they’re having,” Sears said, “I really would like to at least have at least a few minutes to discuss the Covid situation in the correctional facilities.” 

Recent testing has revealed seven additional Covid-19 cases at the Northeast Correctional Complex in St. Johnsbury, up from the nine cases among incarcerated individuals reported earlier this week, Rachel Feldman, a corrections department spokesperson, said in an interview Friday.

The prison remains under the lockdown that had been put in place following the detection of the earlier Covid-19 cases. 

Of the 16 incarcerated individuals who tested positive for the virus, one has since been “medically cleared,” resulting in 15 active Covid-19 among incarcerated individuals at the prison, according to the corrections department.

None of the 16 cases among incarcerated people at the St. Johnsbury prison has led to a hospitalization, according to Feldman. 

Changing of the guard

Also at the committee meeting Friday, panel members thanked James Baker, the outgoing interim corrections commissioner, for his service in the role over the past nearly two years. 

“I’m going to look back at this experience as a time that I learned a whole bunch about the other part of the justice system that I had no idea about, and I will take that with me,” said Baker, the former director of the Vermont State Police.

The committee Friday also welcomed his replacement, Nicholas Deml, who started in the commissioner’s post this week. Deml, an ex-CIA official and national security aide, was appointed to the position last month by Gov. Phil Scott. 

“It’s a unique background, I think, for somebody coming into this role,” Deml told the committee. “I hope to leverage that experience of managing real complex enterprises here in the DOC.”  

Deml told panel members he has lived in Hinesburg for about four years, commuting from Vermont to his past jobs in Washington, D.C. 

Emmons, the committee chair, said she knew Deml’s father-in-law, Chuck Ross, the former secretary of the state Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets who also previously had been a longtime aide to U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.

“It’s a small world,” Sears, a committee member, said. 

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