The Maine CDC is investigating the resurgence of a COVID-19 outbreak at the Cumberland County Jail in Portland.

County Manager Jim Gailey confirmed that seven inmates tested positive for the virus last week and infections jumped to 30 on Monday, with testing expected to continue, Gailey said.

A spokesperson for the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that the outbreak investigation was reopened last week, but he declined to provide any further information. The Maine CDC is considering it a continuation of the outbreak investigation that began at the jail Sept. 7.

Since then, a total of 51 inmates and 13 staff members have tested positive for the virus, said Robert Long, Maine CDC spokesman. Long declined to provide a more detailed breakdown of testing information for the current string of cases.

“Testing is ongoing, so a representative of the jail may have more current information,” Long wrote in an email Thursday afternoon.

Sheriff Kevin Joyce declined to provide more current information Thursday night, saying he was “busy with other issues” and promised a public update Friday morning.

It’s unknown if the entire facility has been placed in lockdown as it was in late September and early October, when a couple dozen staff and inmates were infected with the virus over a course of a few weeks. The lockdown meant the roughly 300 inmates were locked in their cells for at least 23 hours each day, let out only to shower. Inmates and their families said the conditions were inhumane.

That earlier outbreak was made worse by a years-long staffing shortage at the jail, where difficult working conditions, long hours and unattractive pay has made it hard to hire and retain staff.

County commissioners declared an emergency at the jail that lasted for about three weeks in October, and Joyce and other top commanders personally filled shifts staffing jail pods to ease the shortage of corrections workers.

The jail’s budget authorizes 129 positions and only about 60 correction officers currently work there. At one point at the end of September, at the peak of the outbreak, only about 45 full-time corrections officers were available, according to figures provided during a public meeting.

A message to the National Correctional Union Employees Local 110, which represents correction officers at the jail, was not immediately returned Thursday afternoon, and William Doyle, the regional director for the union declined an interview, saying he had not yet been informed of the situation.

The Cumberland County Jail is not the only correctional facility in Maine dealing with COVID outbreaks.

Defendants reporting to the York County Jail in Alfred are being turned away because of concerns about COVID-19 and told to return on Dec. 3 to have their sentences revised or in some cases possibly waived.

The practice has been going on since early September and has affected an undisclosed number of people, most of whom have been convicted of misdemeanor crimes and have gone to the jail to begin serving their court-ordered sentences.

Maine District Court Judge Jeffrey Moskowitz issued an order Sept. 8 that said in light of potential public health concerns over COVID-19 expressed by jail officials it would be imprudent for defendants to serve a sentence for which they have previously been granted a stay of execution. Moskowitz said anyone who shows up to serve their sentence will be given a copy of his order and be granted a further stay.

Anna Black, spokesperson for the Maine Department of Corrections, said last week that the Mountain View Correctional Facility in Charleston was in the midst of an outbreak. As of last Friday, the facility had 49 COVID cases confirmed, according to the Maine Department of Corrections COVID dashboard which is posted on its website each Friday.

A Limerick man convicted of manslaughter in 2017 died at Mountain View Correctional Facility on Dec. 10, but the state did not reveal a cause of death.

More than 330 inmates at different correctional facilities across the state have contracted COVID, with the Maine Correctional Center in Windham recording the highest amount with 161 confirmed cases as of last Friday.


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