Correctional Administrator James Bailey said 45 doses of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine will be available for Two Bridges Regional Jail inmates and staff. These will be the first vaccines offered to inmates. Darcie Moore / The Times Record

Two Bridges Regional Jail started offering COVID-19 vaccines to inmates and staff Tuesday after the Wiscasset facility reported more than 40 COVID-19 cases inside.

The facility reported approximately 41 cases as of Tuesday. Thirty-five inmates and six staff members have tested positive, according to Correctional Administrator James Bailey. Most recently, one employee tested positive Tuesday with a rapid test but is still awaiting the results of a PCR – or polymerase chain reaction – test, which is considered to be more accurate.

As cases continue to increase within the facility, 45 doses of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine for the 64 inmates and 41 staff members who arrived at the jail Tuesday, Bailey said.

“First we’ll get vaccines to people who we know are negative, then later give them to people who have tested positive,” he said.

About 50% of the jail’s employees have received the COVID-19 vaccine, according to Bailey, but this is the first time vaccines are being offered to inmates. Bailey said he didn’t know if any inmates received the vaccine before entering Two Bridges.

The vaccine is optional and it’s unknown how many people will take the jail up on the offer. Bailey said he expects more doses to arrive in the coming weeks — depending on demand.

While corrections officers were eligible for the vaccine beginning in January, Bailey said the jail’s inmates were not included in the first few groups of Maine’s initial tiered system for vaccinating the state. Those early vaccines were reserved for health care providers and essential workers, despite calls from advocates for incarcerated people to be prioritized for the vaccine.

The state then took an age-based approach to distribute vaccines, with oldest inmates getting vaccinated first, before expanding vaccine eligibility to everyone 16 and older last month, encompassing the jail’s population. However, Bailey said the jail wasn’t able to offer vaccines to inmates until now due to the “coordination issue” of giving inmates their second dose of the vaccine.

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses that must be administered three and four weeks apart, respectively. Bailey said that schedule is hard to follow with the “revolving door of inmates” that enter the jail.

“The tracking of the second shot in county jail is hard because (inmates) may not be here for that long,” said Bailey. “Our average stay hovers around 2 to 3 weeks,” but others stay for less than a day.

To solve this, Bailey said the jail chose to offer the Johnson & Johnson vaccine that — while less effective than the Pfizer or Moderna — requires only one dose.

Maine CDC spokesman Robert Long said the center recommends Two Bridges work with the Maine Department of Corrections and other partners “to make vaccines available to staff and inmates” and “ensure that proper infection control and testing protocols are in place.”

The vaccines come in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak at the jail, identified last week when 30 people — approximately 27 inmates and three staff members — tested positive for COVID-19. The sudden wave of cases caused the jail to lock down and divert arrested individuals to other facilities in York, Androscoggin or Hancock counties.

Two Bridges serves Sagadahoc and Lincoln counties and also has a contract with Oxford County to house inmates.

The facility began universal testing for all inmates and staff after discovering the first few positive cases. All programming and non-essential services were suspended.

Despite the more cases being reported, Bailey said he’s pleased with how the jail has fared during the pandemic.

“We’re in the best place that we can be,” said Bailey. “We’ve seen a couple of cases here and there but this is our first outbreak in a year. I’m happy at the point that we’re at. COVID-19 is a virus and when a virus wants to win, it will.”

This is the first outbreak of more than two cases at a time at the jail since the coronavirus pandemic reached Maine in March 2020, Bailey said. It is believed this outbreak originated from a staff member or contractor.

All inmates who have tested positive have been isolated and areas of the jail where the positive cases originated are in quarantine, according to a statement from the jail Thursday.

All inmates are tested for COVID-19 upon arrival and are quarantined before entering the jail’s general population. The facility also tests staff once a month.

Lincoln County held the fourth-lowest COVID-19 case number in the state with 973 probable and confirmed cases and 20 deaths since March 2020, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported Tuesday.

Statewide, 64,446 people have tested positive for COVID-19 and 797 Mainers have died as of Tuesday, according to the Maine CDC.


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