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137 Essex County Detainees Test Positive For COVID-19

Essex County Sheriff officials confirmed 137 detainees at the Middleton Jail and House of Correction have tested positive for the coronavirus, in widespread testing done over the weekend involving 889 prisoners.

In a statement released Monday evening, Essex Sheriff Kevin Coppinger said 31 staff and vendors at the Middleton jail also tested positive. In all of the cases, 72% were asymptomatic and no one was hospitalized.

"These are not surprising numbers," Coppinger said. "We knew that testing everyone in our facilities would result in a higher count. Knowing the true number of cases and being able to identify those people who are positive but asymptomatic is critical to controlling the spread of this highly contagious illness."

The widespread testing was ordered after more than two dozen detainees tested positive late last week. Testing at the other Essex County correctional facilities — the Essex County Pre-Release and Re-entry Center in Lawrence and the Women In Transition program in Salisbury — will be done Tuesday. The Middleton Jail is closed to the public and is now being cleaned.

Coppinger said all correctional officers working in isolation areas are wearing full personal protective equipment.

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Deborah Becker is a senior correspondent and host at WBUR. Her reporting focuses on mental health, criminal justice and education.

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