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Investigation Details Conditions Leading To Outbreak At York County Jail

An independent investigation into a COVID-19 outbreak at the York County Jail in August finds that multiple factors coalesced to make the jail vulnerable to rapid transmission of the virus. But the evidence also suggests that the primary cause was the jail’s failure to implement best practices recommended by the CDC.

The outbreak that began on Aug. 19 lasted for several weeks and resulted in 48 prisoners, 43 staff and 16 household contacts testing positive for the virus. It forced York County Sheriff William King to declare a state of emergency. It also forced the jail to scramble, and with the CDC’s help, rapidly implement COVID-19 mitigation strategies that had been rejected for months.

In a nearly 40-page report, the investigator details in chronological order how jail administrators and the sheriff were advised by the Maine Department of Corrections, the CDC and through the governor’s executive orders to require employees and prisoners to wear masks, practice social distancing, conduct health screenings for workers and ask them to stay home when exhibiting symptoms.

Instead, in a May 21 email to the York County Sheriff’s Office, Sheriff King stated that since corrections officers work in a closed system and wearing a mask “is not feasible” for them, they would not be required to wear cloth face coverings.

So when a corrections officer returned to work from the Millinocket wedding linked to eight deaths and more than 270 cases of COVID-19, the report concludes that conditions were ripe for the virus to enter the jail and spread. To complicate matters, the officer apparently did not believe the virus posed a public health threat and worked at least ten shifts while exhibiting symptoms.

In a press release, the York County Manager says county commissioners and the sheriff are reviewing the report.