First Vermont inmate tests positive for virus; full lockdown continues at Northwest Correctional

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An inmate at Northwest State Correctional Facility in Swanton has tested positive for COVID-19.

The Department of Corrections said the inmate began showing symptoms Monday after three staff members at the facility got sick.

This is the first inmate in the Vermont prison system to be tested positive for COVID-19. He has been placed in a negative pressure cell and is being treated by prison health care providers.

Four DOC staff have been tested positive — three at Northwest and one at Northern State Correctional in Newport.

Agency of Human Services Secretary Mike Smith said an inmate who shared a cell with the confirmed case has not shown any symptoms and is now in single-room isolation. The DOC has begun testing all staff and inmates at the facility.

“We have no other inmates at this point who have tested positive who are suspected of covid-19 positive at this point, no other test pending for inmates,” said Smith.

Smith said at least two of the sickened staff members had contact with inmates within 48 hours of developing symptoms.

“We anticipated it was not a case of if, but when,” he said. “We proactively in corrections have been responding to keep the inmate and the rest of those housed in the facility and the staff safe,” he said.

Corrections Department officials ordered a modified lockdown Monday, only to impose a full lockdown a few hours later after test results confirmed the third staffer had COVID-19. Inmates are confined to their cells and meals and medicine are brought to them.

Gov. Phil Scott said Wednesday that Vermont is seeing fewer cases than expected, but that he plans to extend his March 24 “stay-at-home” order on Friday.

“We are data driven, we are going to watch what is happening and make sure that we are doing everything we can to keep Vermonters safe, but knowing that we have to get to some sort of normalcy in the near future,” said Scott.

Health Commissioner Mark Levine said that, with the exception of outbreaks at long-term care facilitiles, Vermont is in a “plateau phase” of cases.

He also said the federal government is shipping 15 rapid testing kits to Vermont that will give results in fifteen minutes. The Health Department has about 1,800 tests on hand, Levine said

“The challenge will be making sure we have a supply pathway to obtain more testing materials,” he said.

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