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Sgt. James Hoyt and Cpl. Ryan Robitaille stand in front of the Oxford County jail in South Paris on Monday afternoon. The officers reported that things have been quiet at the jail. Maine has fewer arrests and nobody is being allowed inside of the jail buildings except for employees and inmates, in an effort to mitigate the spread of coronavirus. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Authorities reported Monday that no inmates at Maine’s jails and prisons have tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

Officials have rolled out new stringent screening protocols at jails in an effort to detect infected arrestees and law enforcement has been bringing fewer detainees to county jail sally ports, sheriffs said Monday.

And while there are published reports of hundreds of inmates who tested positive for the virus at county jails and state and federal prisons elsewhere in the country, the incarcerated population in Maine has so far escaped that fate.

Some sheriffs said their supplies of protective gear are dwindling and likely wouldn’t be equipped to handle an outbreak without more supplies.

Maine’s Department of Corrections reported at noon Monday that, of the more than 200 adult inmates at state prisons and correctional centers, 14 have been tested, 10 have been found to be negative for the virus and four are in isolation with results pending.

“There are no county jails in the state, to my knowledge as of this moment, that have had any inmates test positive” for the coronavirus, said Penobscot County Sheriff Troy Morton, who is president of the Maine Sheriffs Association.

Most jails, through collaborative efforts with sheriff’s deputies, area police departments, the courts and prosecutors, have been successful in reducing the number of new inmates.

Penobscot County Jail workers are processing roughly half a dozen inmates a day compared to about 20 before the new protocols were put in place, he said.

“I’m more concerned about the new inmates coming in as opposed to those who have been here for months,” he said. “Folks that have been out in the public here over the past several weeks have been exposed whereas those who’ve been confined aren’t reaching anywhere near the exposure the average person would out in the community. So we’re being very cognizant of any new arrests that are brought into a facility.”

Anyone arrested goes through a rigorous booking process that includes a lengthy medical questionnaire and temperature reading, he said.

Th inmate is then quarantined for 14 days before joining the general population. As of Monday, he said roughly a dozen inmates were in quarantine.

Oxford County Sheriff Christopher Wainwright said his staff at the 72-hour jail in Paris hasn’t had to do any quarantining during intake.

“We do a pretty thorough process of when we bring people in,” he said. The area law enforcement officers have not brought them any arrestees who have symptoms of the virus, he said.

“Knock on wood,” he said. “We’re one cough and one handshake away, as everyone else is,” he said.
Intake officers wear masks and gloves during booking while they run through the now-routine temperature checks and medical questionnaire.

If the inmates pass the intake process, they’re taken to a cell block where they’re put into their own cells for up to 72 hours, he said.

After that, they’re shuttled to Two Bridges Regional Jail in Wiscasset.

Androscoggin County Sheriff Eric Samson said Monday no one at his jail in Auburn has tested positive for the virus or been symptomatic but, he said, they hope to be prepared in the event that should happen.

Despite the steady drop in jail population over the past month, the numbers of N95 masks worn by the booking officers have been depleted, he said.

On Monday, he was given a dozen of the masks from Central Maine Community College in Auburn, which has started churning out the masks with its 3-D printer.

The Auburn college sent an email Friday asking whether Samson’s department was interested, Samson answered that he was, but only asked for 12 “to get us going,” mindful of the fact that other agencies are running low also.

“That will help us in the jail where we have extreme shortages,” he said, noting they’d only had four of the masks left.

Inmates in quarantine are given surgical masks to wear, he said.

An Auburn dentist donated 200 of those masks to Samson’s department, he said.

A couple in Minot had sewn cloth masks for deputies on patrol and jail personnel.

“Surgical masks are available to any of the staff if they choose to wear them, but to this point it hasn’t been reported that any staff are actually using masks, in the course of their duties,” he said.

Morton said his sheriffs organization compiled a list of the needs of all of the county jails in the state for a 30-day supply and submitted that to the Maine Department of Corrections in an effort to get supplies from the state stockpile, he said.

He said that each of the counties is “actively out trying to obtain them through private organizations and companies both instate and out of state as well as tapping into the emergency management system who might help provide some PPEs,” he said.

“It’s really not one approach; it’s multiple approaches to get the items that we need,” he said.

Franklin County Sheriff Scott Nichols Sr. could not be reached for comment Monday.

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