Corrections officials unable to pinpoint start of COVID-19 outbreak

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    NEWPORT, Vermont (WPTZ ) — Nearly 130 inmates at a Vermont correctional facility have tested positive for COVID-19, noted by corrections officials the largest outbreak within a prison since the pandemic started.

The Vermont Department of Corrections Commissioner Jim Baker said on Thursday that 129 inmates in their custody and 10 staff have tested positive for COVID-19 at Northern State Correctional Facility in Newport. One of those inmates who was positive has since left the facility as part of a scheduled release.

“This is a significant and critical event,” Baker said. Testing ramped up after an employee tested positive for the virus in the middle of February. Everyone was tested on Feb. 23 and those results found another staff member and 21 inmates were positive. Contact tracing began to find out how the virus got inside.

“We were unable to pinpoint that which is unusual for us in our contact tracing. this left us greatly concerned about what we may be facing,” Baker said.

More testing on Monday identified 100 new inmates and eight staff member cases.

“We’ve split up and isolated those positive individuals and quarantined the nonpositive individuals,” said Baker.

Additional medical personnel have been brought in and mental health counseling increased but officials are still in the dark about how it started.

“We still do not fully comprehend or understand how the virus got inside the facility,” Baker said.

The union that represents the state’s corrections officers believes this could have been avoided.

“I think a lot of our members believe that had the administration been more proactive on vaccinations that this might have been something that could have prevented,” said Steve Howard, executive director of the Vermont State Employees’ Association.

For everyone who works at these facilities, the vaccines are on the way.

“I expect this weekend we will start vaccinating our staff and as the bans announcements come out that will speed up the vaccination of the folks that are in our custody as well,” Baker said.

Testing for those inmates who were negative took place on Thursday. The facility remains on full lockdown.

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