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COVID-19 cases jump in Mass. jails and prisons after months of minimal spread

After months of reporting few cases of the coronavirus, there are now outbreaks in some of the state's jails and prisons.

About 100 Middleton House of Correction detainees have COVID-19, according to the Essex County Sheriff's Department. Five days ago, there were 57 active cases reported in the jail.

Most cases involve mild symptoms and are among people who have been vaccinated, according to a spokesperson for Essex County Sheriff Kevin Coppinger. An additional 28 Essex employees, vendors and volunteers have tested positive.

In-person visits remain suspended at the jail and extra cleaning and preventative measures are in place, according to a statement from Coppinger's office. In its last report to the state on Oct. 15, the jail reported zero active cases among those incarcerated.

At the Worcester County Jail and House of Correction, the sheriff has imposed a 10-day medical lockdown after 68 of the 654 men incarcerated there tested positive. Eleven staff members at the jail also have active cases of the virus. The lockdown means there will not be programming or classes, and visitation is suspended.

"Most — if not all — of those who tested positive are asymptomatic," said Worcester County Jail Superintendent David Tuttle. "We're restricting movement as a precaution and we're confident we will get this under control."

Tuttle said it's not clear how many of those in custody are vaccinated, but he said many detainees have refused the vaccine although it is being offered at the jail.

In Bristol County, there are 47 active cases among those in custody. The Bristol County Sheriff's Department said many of those who are positive are finishing up medical isolation.

There are seven active cases among those held at the Middlesex County House of Correction, according to the sheriff's department there.

The Department of Correction said there are currently 12 active cases among those held in state prisons. That includes 10 cases at the Massachusetts Alcohol and Substance Abuse Center in Plymouth, which houses men who are involuntarily committed to addiction treatment. One case is reported at MCI Cedar Junction and one at MCI Framingham.

In its Oct. 15 report to the state, the department said there were no cases among those in its custody.

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

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