Testing Reveals a Major Outbreak at Northwest State Correctional Facility | Off Message

Testing Reveals a Major Outbreak at Northwest State Correctional Facility


  • Michael Letour / CC BY-SA/ creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0
  • Northwest State Correctional Facility
A decision to test all guards and inmates at Northwest State Correctional Facility has revealed a wide-scale coronavirus outbreak at the prison — and half the tests are still pending.

At least 29 inmates and eight guards have been infected, the Vermont Department of Corrections said Thursday night. Most are not showing symptoms, but they will be moved to Northeast Correctional Complex in St. Johnsbury, which the state has planned to use as a quarantine facility in the event of an outbreak.

Only one inmate and three employees at the prison had tested positive when the department decided Wednesday to test all 328 inmates and staff.

By Thursday afternoon, a little more than half of the test results had been returned. Of the 167 results, 20 percent were positive for COVID-19.

The remaining results will be announced on Friday, the Department said in a press release.
The prison has been on "full lockdown" since Monday, when the second and third staff cases were confirmed. Inmates must remain inside their cells, with meals and medications brought to them. Masks were issued to everyone.

Northwest State Correctional Facility is located in the town of St. Albans, but is commonly referred to by its Swanton mailing address.
The prison has just five rooms that can be used to quarantine patients, Interim Corrections Commissioner Jim Baker has said, so the department has planned to convert a portion of the St. Johnsbury complex into a quarantine facility with help from the Vermont National Guard.

"We're certainly hoping we don't get there, but if we do, I think we have a pretty solid plan," Baker told state lawmakers last week.
Like nursing homes, prisons have proven to be especially susceptible to coronavirus outbreaks, and inmates and their advocates have been pushing for drastic measures to reduce prison populations.

Earlier Thursday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont called on Gov. Phil Scott to use his executive authority to furlough elderly and medically compromised inmates, citing the single inmate case known at the time, at the Swanton facility.

"People in our prisons were not sentenced to suffer and die in a pandemic, and the people who work in our prisons deserve to know that everything that can be done has been done to protect them and their loved ones, before it is too late," executive director James Lyall said. "This latest case is further evidence that we are running out of time."

There were 1,422 people incarcerated with the Vermont Department of Corrections as of April 9, down 227 since March 13. 

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