County jails vaccinate some staff, inmates next in line

  • Hampshire County Jail and House of Correction GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Hampshire County Sheriff Patrick Cahillane talks about measures to reduce exposure to the new coronavirus at the Hampshire County Jail and House of Correction on Thursday, March 12, 2020. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 1/20/2021 1:25:15 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Staff at the Hampshire, Hampden and Franklin county jails have begun to get vaccinated against COVID-19, and jail officials said they plan to offer vaccinations to inmates this week.

At the Hampshire County Jail and House of Correction, staff began getting vaccinated on Jan. 7, and so far, 44 members have been inoculated, Sheriff Patrick Cahillane said Tuesday.

“As a matter of fact, I took the first vaccination,” he said. “I am here all the time, and I’m in and out and interacting with people, so the medical staff felt I should be vaccinated for that reason. And to continue to remain healthy so I can make the decisions that are necessary. Then we did the medical staff.”

Next, the jail began to vaccinate staff who have direct contact with inmates, he said.

“We know that if COVID comes in, it’s going to come in through an arrestee or it will come in with a staff member,” Cahillane said. “So the idea was to get the staff members who were in a lot of contact with the inmate population first.”

The rest of the staff will eventually be vaccinated as well, he said, though it is not yet known if getting a COVID-19 vaccine will prevent people from carrying and transmitting the virus to others.

“That’s an unknown,” Cahillane said. “That’s why you have to continue with all the other protocols,” he said, including wearing a mask.

As of Tuesday morning, there were 116 people incarcerated in the jail, 85 of whom were awaiting trial, according to Cahillane. About 50 want to be vaccinated, Cahillane said, adding that the facility’s medical director did educational presentations and surveyed inmates about whether they wanted to be vaccinated.

“We will continue to do education,” Cahillane said, noting that since the beginning of the pandemic, 20 people incarcerated at the jail have tested positive for COVID-19.

“Testing is done when new individuals are coming in on a permanent basis,” he said.

Similarly, at the Franklin County Jail and House of Correction, most officers have received their first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, including Sheriff Christopher Donelan, and soon the facility will receive another 300 doses to start doing the same for its inmates.

At the Hampden County Jail and House of Correction, nearly 300 staff members have been vaccinated so far, a jail spokesperson said Tuesday. Incarcerated people at the jail are scheduled to be vaccinated later this week, said Sheriff Nicholas Cocchi.

Staff such as doctors and nurses qualified to be vaccinated under the first part of Phase 1 of the state’s vaccination rollout plan, Cocchi said, while first responders including deputy sheriffs and those who work in units in the jail with cases of COVID-19 qualified to be vaccinated next.

“Certainly I am very aware that it’s a very hot button topic of jails and inmates and staff being vaccinated ahead of some of the others in the community,” Cocchi said, adding that he was following state guidelines, which places inmates and staff in prisons and jails in Phase 1 of the state’s three-phase vaccine rollout plan.

One recent analysis of data from Massachusetts jails and prisons in The Journal of the American Medical Association found that the rates of COVID-19 among inmates and staff were nearly three times the rate of the general state population. Another analysis in the same publication found that the COVID-19 case rate for prisoners in state and federal prisons was 5.5 times higher than the U.S. population case rate, and the death rate was higher.

As of Jan. 13, there were 766 people incarcerated in the Hampden County jail, 590 of whom are there awaiting trial, according to state data. So far, 170 men jailed there have said they want to be vaccinated, according to Cocchi.

“That’s a very low number. We believe that number will grow,” he said. “‘We’re aiming for 50%. We can’t mandate, we cannot force anyone to take the vaccine.”

Sixty-two percent of the staff said they want the vaccine, he said, adding he expects that figure to grow, too.

Last month, 79 incarcerated men and 20 staffers tested positive for COVID-19 in an outbreak at the Hampden County jail. Cocchi said that “anybody who is symptomatic is automatically tested, and we test everyone who comes in.”

“Since March 2020, we’ve had 210 staff who had COVID with just 16 of them currently out (194 recovered and back to work),” a jail spokesperson wrote in an email on Tuesday. “We’ve had 255 inmates test positive since March 2020 with most being asymptomatic, and none dying from the disease. There are just two current positive inmates as of today.”

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com. This story includes information from the Greenfield Recorder.


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