ALFRED, Maine — An email points to an outright ban on masks in housing units in a Maine jail dealing with a coronavirus outbreak that’s linked to a wedding and reception that made national news.
The York County Jail became a coronavirus hotspot after an employee who attended an August wedding more than 200 miles (320 kilometers) away in the Katahdin region spread the virus. The number of cases associated with the jail was approaching 90 as of Friday, and the number of cases linked to the wedding and reception has topped 170 with eight deaths.
The email obtained by news outlets said inmates were not permitted to bring masks into any housing unit, a policy that likely exacerbated the outbreak. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advocates mask-wearing to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
“Inmates are allowed to remove the masks from their faces when in secured holding cell(s). Inmates that test negative for COVID-19 will dispose of their mask, in intake and in front of staff,” the email said.
Attorney Tim Zerillo, who represents an inmate who caught the virus, said in recent months he has received complaints from inmates and their families.
“Those complaints were always that there were no masks at the jail and neither the detainees or the guards were wearing masks and that people were scared and I don’t think it’s just the inmates who were scared,” Zerillo told WMTW-TV.
Corrections officers reported that there was an “an informal directive not to wear masks in the housing units for fear of creating hysteria amongst the inmates,” said William Doyle, an official with the union that represents corrections officers.
After the first cases at the jail, the Maine Department of Corrections reviewed 14 other jails in the state and found that four did not require inmates to wear face masks.
Corrections Commissioner Randall Liberty, whose department inspects jails, said any deficiencies are being addressed in all jails.
“When we brought to their attention the deficiencies that they have, they corrected them and are in the process of correcting them,” he said.