Corrections officials unable to explain source of outbreak at Newport prison

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Commissioner Jim Baker called the situation at Northern Correctional a crisis Thursday. There are now 128 cases among inmates and 10 staff members are infected with COVID-19.

“We are struggling to figure out through contact tracing exactly what happened here,” the commissioner said.

Baker says a staff member got tested outside the facility’s usual twice weekly protocol and it came back positive. They were last in the prison on February 16th. This prompted the entire facility to be tested on February 23rd and again on Monday. Baker says right now, no inmates are symptomatic, but he acknowledges the strain on both inmates and their families.

“I understand that these are your loved ones that are in our care and I want to assure you that we are doing everything we can and we are razor-focused on containing this outbreak,” he said.

Baker says they can’t explain how the virus traveled from one building to the next, causing a widespread outbreak. The ACLU continues to criticize the situation.

“Governor Scott is responsible for this.,” said James Lyall, executive director of ACLU Vt. “He needs to act with compassion and act responsibly from a public health standpoint and vaccinate all of, not some of, but all of the people who are at heightened risk.”

Lyall would also like to see the state further reduce the prison population by releasing inmates with whose sentences are almost up. He says litigation for vaccinating this group, will be a last ditch resort.

“It shouldn’t take a class action lawsuit to get the administration to do the right thing,” he said. “The people in our prisons are our families, they’re people in our communities. None of them, no matter what they did, were sentenced to suffer and die in a pandemic”.

Commissioner Baker says those inmates who tested negative, were tested again Thursday.

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