COVID-19-positive inmates recover behind bars at Middleton jail

MIDDLETON, Mass. — The Middleton County House of Correction houses the largest inmate population in the Massachusetts County Jail system.

And it is also home to the largest number of COVID-19-positive inmates in the state’s county jails.

But the numbers also reveal many of those inmates who tested positive for the virus have fully recovered, behind bars.

Here are the numbers: 133 Middleton inmates have been tested for COVID-19. 60 of them have tested positive for the virus while 45 of the 60 have recovered and have since been returned to general population.

“I think our numbers prove that we are treating the vast majority of them to the best of our abilities and (we are being) successful,” said Essex County Sheriff Kevin Coppinger.

Coppinger says his staff identified the COVID-19 threat in late January and early February and have been ordering cleaning materials and PPE.

Today, the jail, which is home to 1,031 inmates, has an intricate system in place to handle the coronavirus crisis and it seems to be working.

Among the changes is keeping incoming inmates in a “New Man” Unit for 14 days, an effort to keep the virus outside the jail. Inmates who show symptoms are tested, and so are their cellmates.

COVID-19-positive inmates are relocated away from general population to a medical housing unit. If they become symptomatic, they are kept under medical supervision until they are well. So far, only three inmates have needed more intense treatment and were sent to the hospital.

Of the three, two are responding well and are expected to return to Middleton by the end of the week.

In addition to those protocols, every staff member and inmate is required to wear a mask. The facility is constantly cleaned, and the temperature of every inmate is taken every day.

It is a lot of work.

But Coppinger says the pay off is big: inmates and staff are being kept healthy.

“I’m a law enforcement officer, I’m not a medical expert,” said Coppinger. “I think I have common sense. I don’t think anyone completely grasps the extent of this pandemic. So, we have to take all of the precautions we can. And that’s what we are trying to do here as much as possible.”

The numbers on the staffing side also are encouraging.

Out of 625 employees, 15 have tested positive. Eight of them are already back at work, according to Coppinger.

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