Nearly 150 Vermont inmates housed in a Mississippi prison have tested positive for COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, the head of the Vermont Corrections Department announced Wednesday.
Vermont houses 219 inmates at the Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility in Tutwiler, Mississippi, because of a lack of capacity in its own prisons. Late last month, six inmates who were returned to Vermont from the private Mississippi prison tested positive when they arrived at the Rutland, Vermont, correctional facility. That prompted Vermont's Corrections Department on July 30 to order that the remaining Vermont inmates in Mississippi be tested.
Interim Vermont Corrections Commissioner James Baker announced Tuesday that along with the 147 positive tests, 62 tested negative though two tests were still pending and eight inmates refused to get tested.
Mississippi only tests symptomatic inmates, while Vermont changed its protocol after an outbreak at the Swanton prison to test Vermont prison inmates regularly. It had sent its guidance to the Mississippi prison, he said.
“In hindsight, as the commissioner of Corrections, on this particular issue, I should have been more inquisitive and I should have been more aware of processes in Mississippi and asked more questions to clarify because clearly where we sit now with the number of positive tests something went wrong,” he said.
None of the inmates were currently showing symptoms that concerned the Corrections Department, Baker said.
Vermont has insisted on regular testing of the Vermont inmates in the Mississippi facility, as the state does at its own prisons, separating those who tested negative from those who tested positive and testing staff, officials said.
CoreCivic, which operates the Mississippi prison, is one of the largest private providers of jail space in the country, Baker said. Last year the state paid it roughly $6.8 million, Baker said. The outbreak has caused a trust issue with CoreCivic, he said.
“I cannot overstate how frustrated I am that someone that runs a jail system like that wasn't aware of the things that we were aware of in little old Vermont that we're able to keep our facilities as clean as they are,” Baker said.
At the same time, Baker announced that one inmate at the Northern State Correctional Facility in Newport and one inmate at the Marble Valley Correctional Facility in Rutland have tested positive. They both were in quarantine when they were tested and have been moved to medical isolation, the Corrections Department said.
SKI RESORTS-VIRUS RELIEF
A federal judge has granted the request of the receiver overseeing Burke Mountain and Jay Peak ski resorts, whose former owner was charged with fraud, to execute a $3.2 million federal government coronavirus relief loan to help keep the resorts open and employees working.
The resorts have reopened after being closed down for several months due to the pandemic and hope to prepare for the ski season and boost staffing by November, federal receiver Michael Goldberg told U.S. District Court, according to Caledonian Record. The loan through the Paycheck Protection Program would be financed by City National Bank.
Miami businessman Ariel Quiros, who owned Jay Peak and Burke, pleaded not guilty in May 2019 to 12 felony charges, including seven counts of wire fraud and three counts of false statements.
Quiros and three others were indicted over a failed plan to build a biotechnology plant in Newport using $200 million in foreign investors’ money. His lawyer said last month that Quiros plans to withdraw his not guilty pleas.
The federal Securities and Exchange Commission also accused him and his associates in a Ponzi-like scheme. As part of the SEC settlement, Quiros surrendered more than $80 million in real estate and other assets including the two ski resorts. The receiver plans to eventually sell Burke and Jay Peak.
Vermont reported five new cases of the coronavirus on Wednesday, for a total of 1,436 statewide since the pandemic began. The total number of deaths remained at 57. One person was hospitalized with COVID-19.