An employee at the Bolduc Correctional Facility in Warren has tested positive for coronavirus, the Maine Department of Corrections said Tuesday.

The department separately announced that seven inmates have been tested for the virus. Four tests have been negative, while three are pending.

Those updates were the first from the department regarding testing among inmates and staff. Corrections officials have declined multiple interview requests since last week and did not respond to specific questions Tuesday about the department’s response to the pandemic.

Commissioner Randall Liberty said Tuesday afternoon in a news release that the employee has been in self-quarantine since March 20 while waiting for test results. That person has not been at the Warren facility since that day. The department learned of the positive test result Tuesday morning.

“The CDC has begun the contact tracing for this individual, working in collaboration with staff from the Bolduc Correctional Facility,” the release said. “Initial findings from the CDC note that anyone the individual had close contact with has been notified. Those contacts who have been directed are self-monitoring for symptoms.”

The release did not indicate if any of those contacts were inmates or corrections staff. A department official did not respond to that question and others via email Tuesday afternoon.

The Bolduc Correctional Facility has a capacity of 222 inmates and 65 staff members. The population was 208 as of Monday, according to an update on the department website. The men who are incarcerated there are typically classified as minimum security, or they have less than three years left on their sentences.

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, announced the update on inmate testing Tuesday during his daily briefing on the coronavirus. The numbers were also posted on the department’s website in a dashboard that will now be updated on weekdays.

Liberty has outlined a phased approach to the pandemic response, with the first two phases including suspending visits and increasing cleaning and planning with local hospitals. The commissioner said the department would move into a third phase when there was a suspected or confirmed case in one of the correctional facilities, and possible steps would include the suspension of programming and alternative methods for food services.

But corrections officials said Tuesday that the department remains in the second phase despite the confirmed case for the Bolduc Correctional Facility employee. They not respond to a question about why that change had not yet taken place.

“For privacy, the Department of Corrections will not be releasing further information about any individual tested,” Anna Black, the department’s director of strategic initiatives, wrote in an email. “As noted in the statement released this afternoon, the department remains in phase 2. At this time the department does not have any further comment.”

Advocates repeated their call to the Maine Department of Corrections and other agencies to release as many people as possible to prevent the spread of coronavirus in correctional facilities.

“It was never a matter of if, but when, the virus would infiltrate a correctional facility in Maine,” Alison Beyea, the executive director of the ACLU of Maine, said. “Now that COVID-19 had made it inside a closed correctional facility, it will likely spread like wildfire among prisoners and staff for whom physical distancing is impossible. The risk isn’t just to incarcerated people, but to correctional staff, their families, and the entire community where prison staff return each day.”

The ACLU of Maine had asked state and local officials to release inmates who have less than one year left on their sentences and those who are at higher risk of getting sick and dying from the virus.

“If we continue to hold people under these circumstances, we risk sentencing them to death and we jeopardize the health of everyone around them,” Beyea said. “DOC must act now and set up an independent process to safely release as many people as they can, as quickly as possible.”

Neither the department nor the governor’s office has taken a public position on that request. Liberty said in a written update Friday that the department had released 29 adults to supervised home confinement, and he expected 27 more to be released by April 10.

But that progress has not represented a significant change in the prison population. On Feb. 24, the number of adults in Maine’s prisons was 2,171. On Friday, that number was down to 2,097. That represents a roughly 3 percent decrease.

Attorney Tina Heather Nadeau, executive director of the Maine Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, criticized the department for not disclosing that an employee had been quarantined for more than a week. She said the department and Gov. Janet Mills need to exercise their power to release more incarcerated people.

“Jails and prisons provide the perfect breeding ground for this virus,” Nadeau wrote in an email Tuesday. “Unless and until we start caring for every single person in this state – including those who are incarcerated and those who work with the incarcerated – I fear that whatever work is done to prevent the spread of the virus outside of jail and prison walls will be for naught.”

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