Middlesex Sheriff confirms positive COVID-19 case of inmate

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BILLERICA, Mass. (WWLP)– The Middlesex Sheriff’s office announced Saturday that an inmate had tested positive of COVID-19 after his roommate tested positive on Friday. 

According to a press release sent to 22News, though the second individual was not displaying any symptoms, he was placed in medical isolation in the Health Services Unit and tested as a precaution at the recommendation of an external infectious disease specialist. 

After receiving the results of the first test Friday, the sheriff’s office announced several additional steps it would implement based on its pre-established response plan determined by consultation with inside medical staff, outside medical professionals and an external infectious disease specialist. 

The new steps included:

  • Limiting movement in-and-out of the unit in which both men previously resided.
  • Providing all individuals residing in the unit with masks.
  • Officers assigned to the unit for the past several days were ordered not to report to work until further notice and asked to speak with their medical provider.
  • Officers currently working in the unit will utilize precautions including the donning of masks and gloves.  Nurses working in the unit will also don gowns in addition to the masks and gloves.

The steps announced Friday morning were made in consultation with both internal and external medical professionals including Dr. Alysse Wurcel, an infectious diseases specialist at Tufts Medical Center.

We have been consulting with Dr. Wurcel and others since the end of February, implementing numerous critical steps in anticipation of COVID-19’s arrival here in the Commonwealth.

Middlesex Sheriff Peter. J. Koutoujian

The MSO contacted me several weeks ago to assist in COVID-19 preparedness.  I have been thoroughly impressed by their commitment to provide the highest quality of healthcare to people who are incarcerated, and provide education and tools to their staff to keep everyone healthy.

To date, the communities within Middlesex county have been the hardest hit in all of Massachusetts, so it is not surprising that they are the first jail to report cases. 

Case identification was facilitated through partnership Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, who stepped up to fill huge gap in testing availability, and provided rapid turn-around COVID-19 testing.  

I am in constant communication with the MSO staff as they develop protocols to triage inmates and staff with symptoms.  They have been doing an incredible job, under incredibly demanding circumstances.

Dr. Alysse Wurcel

The new steps announced Friday supplement previously announced efforts including:

  • Enhancing medical screening for new individuals entering the facility beginning on March 4, and implementing corresponding protocols to respond to cases of concern.
  • Designating our Family Resource and Outreach Coordinator Lili Bonilla as the central point of contact for families.  Lili can be reached at 978-932-3517 or by emailing lbonilla@sdm.state.ma.us.  Individuals or families with urgent concerns outside of normal business hours should contact 978-667-1711 ext. 0.
  • Suspending in-person visits for family and friends, as well as volunteer services, as of March 13.
  • Offering four free phone calls of up to 20 minutes each for incarcerated individuals every week beginning on March 17.  This was an increase from the two free calls per week initially announced four days earlier.
  • Formally transitioning attorney visits from contact to non-contact on March 19, though most attorneys had utilized non-contact visits since March 13.

  • Vigorously enhanced cleaning of facilities and availability of cleaning products.

  • Expanding our use of video and telephone conferences to ensure court dates move forward for already incarcerated individuals.  The MSO has facilitated an average of 30 such conferences over the last eight court days.

  • Working with the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office to support its review process of individuals being held pretrial on bail.
  • Placing a focus on elderly individuals and those with chronic health conditions, as outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  This includes conducting expedited review processes of sentenced individuals for consideration in our electronic monitoring program (EMP).  In cases where the MSO does not have the authority to act, we are attempting to work with prosecutors, families and the defense bar to determine whether anyone in our custody could have their sentences reviewed by the judiciary.
  • As a result of a combination of factors to date – including regularly scheduled releases, our work with the district attorney, the Mass Bail Fund and the continued facilitation of court hearings by video and telephonic means – the incarcerated population at the Middlesex Jail & House of Correction has dropped by almost 10 percent since March 11 (from 787 to 711).

The efforts undertaken by the members of the Middlesex Sheriff’s Office have been nothing short of outstanding.

During an unprecedented time, they have confronted this challenge head on – focused on ensuring the wellbeing of all those living in and working at the Middlesex Jail & House of Correction. 

It is a testament to the professionalism of these dedicated officers, medical professionals and support staff members.

said Sheriff Koutoujian.

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