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Update: Over 100 Manchester Jail Inmates Test Positive for COVID-19

Zoey Knox

At least 102 inmates at the Valley Street Jail in Manchester have tested positive for COVID-19, over half of the jail's entire inmate population. Twenty-seven staff are also now positive with the virus, and more will be tested later this week.

The facility has faced criticism for its handling of COVID-19 protocols – including mask-wearing, test availability, and quarantine procedures.

Under oath at a bail hearing Tuesday, Jail Superintendent Willie Scurry testified that until Dec. 23, inmates were not allowed to wear masks in common spaces because of “security concerns.” Scurry added that the jail relied on self-monitoring by staff and did not have an active COVID-19 screening process for anyone entering the jail, though it was in the process of developing one.

The state health department said Tuesday it has taken over management of the Valley Street outbreak and is in regular contact with medical staff there. 

Scurry testified that before the outbreak, he had not communicated with state or city health departments, nor other jail superintendents, about COVID-19 protocols.

Denise Hartley, the jail’s health services supervisor, testified that prior to the confirmed positive cases on Dec. 23, there was not a need to work regularly with the state health department on COVID-19 management.

Hartley said that inmates with positive cases of COVID-19 are being monitored on a daily basis, in addition to receiving daily medications and monitoring for other health conditions.

Editor's note: This post has been updated. An earlier version incorrectly said the state was monitoring outbreaks at correctional facilities in Sullivan and Rockingham counties. As of Tuesday, January 6, the state is monitoring outbreaks at the Strafford, Merrimack, and Hillsborough County jails, as well as the state prisons in Berlin and Concord. The first post, from January 4, is below.

Fifty-one inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 at the Valley Street Jail in Manchester, according to Superintendent Willie Scurry.

The positive cases were discovered after the jail began testing inmates last week, amidstconcerns from attorneysabout COVID-19 protocol and a judge's Dec. 31 order warning of "deliberate indifference to the health of inmates" at the facility. 

Superintendent Scurry says the jail is still awaiting results from another tests for an additional 135 inmates.

But absent those results, the numbers are significant: Roughly a quarter of inmates at the state's largest jail have a confirmed positive case of COVID-19, within a week of the jail conducting extensive testing.

The state health department confirmed that there were "additional cases" since last week but said it was still verifying the numbers.

Scurry said the new cases were identified among two units and that anyone who tested positive is quarantined in their cell. However, inmates with positive cases remain in units with other other inmates who recently tested negative, contrary to CDC guidance.

Scurry said that inmates were being medically monitored once a day but did not clarify if those with underlying health conditions that may cause complications from the virus are receiving particular attention.

In testimony last week, Scurry said 22 staff at the prison have tested positive. The jail is conducting facility-wide testing this week, Scurry said.

Sarah Gibson joined NHPR's newsroom in 2018. She reports on education and demographics.

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