Androscoggin County Deputies Harry Simms and Emma Stone stand by in Androscoggin County Superior Court earlier this month after escorting jail inmate and defendant David Hunt of Massachusetts to his sentencing hearing. Assistant District Attorney Katherine Bozeman and defense attorney Verne Paradie are in the foreground. Screenshot from video

AUBURN — A Massachusetts man shuffled into an Androscoggin County Superior Courtroom this month, shackled, handcuffed and flanked by two deputies.

The two transport officers and the inmate wore masks aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus.

For nearly two years, these protocols have been common sight in courthouses during the pandemic. But what was unusual at this hearing was that the prosecutor, defense attorney and judge appeared without masks.

The Maine Judicial Branch dropped its courthouse masking requirements last month.

As the vaccinated population in Maine rises, restrictions on masking, social distancing and testing that had been in place since this time in 2020 have eased.

Androscoggin County Sheriff Eric Samson said Thursday that some protocols at Androscoggin County Jail have softened recently, but pandemic precautions remain largely in place in an effort to keep the jail population and staff healthy.


Jail staff must wear masks when they enter cellblock areas as well as spaces such as television and dining areas during the day, he said.

Inmates are required to wear masks if they leave their cellblocks, but don’t have to be masked in their cells and day spaces.

Newly admitted inmates are quarantined for five days before they are sent to general population areas, Samson said.

Inmates who report symptoms of COVID-19, have displayed symptoms or may have been exposed to someone diagnosed with the disease are tested, he said.

No inmates have tested positive within the past six to eight weeks, Samson said, adding the jail is “looking to slowly transition back to normal operating/intake procedures.”

That gradual transition “will allow us to look out for the health and well-being of our correctional staff, the inmate population and monitor how it affects our facility related to any uptick in positive cases that may occur and allow for public safety agencies within Androscoggin County to divert less arrests from the facility,” Samson said.


“I believe, if our numbers rise, we can adjust our protocols. And if they decline, like we are seeing now, we can attempt to restore pre-COVID operations.”

Transport officers continue to wear masks while taking inmates to and from courtrooms for hearings, he said.

If an inmate is appearing from the jail via videoconference for a courtroom hearing before a judge, they may remove their masks, Samson said. Inmates who have been recently arrested may be required to leave their masks on for those hearings.

By contrast, at Oxford County Jail in South Paris, mask restrictions have been lifted, Oxford County Sheriff’s Capt. Dana Dillingham said Thursday.

“We try to house any new intakes by themselves for the first couple days to observe,” he said. “Anyone with symptoms would be tested.”

No inmates have tested positive at the jail as of Thursday, he said.

“If we get a positive (test), we will take appropriate measures as needed” he said, including quarantine, masking and additional testing.

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