An inmate detained by federal immigration authorities at the Strafford County correctional facility has tested positive for COVID-19, county officials confirmed Saturday.
This is the first confirmed infection in an inmate at the correctional facility in Dover. It also comes amid a federal lawsuit over how to protect immigrant detainees at the facility from the coronavirus.
Strafford County Administrator Ray Bower says the infected man was only recently transferred to Dover by U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement, and displayed a mild fever upon arriving.
So under the jail's policies, Bower says, the man was isolated in the medical unit away from other inmates.
"He’s been in quarantine since he came into the facility, and he’s had no exposure to staff, because when the staff dealt with him they were in full PPE,” Bower says.
Bower says the detainee was in stable condition as of Saturday afternoon. He is not in solitary confinement and can receive direct care from medical staff in protective gear.
"They're not being punished in isolation because they might be ill,” Bower says.
This is the first known infection in any inmate at the Strafford County jail. Officials also said late last week that one employee in the medical unit had tested positive. She had not displayed symptoms and was sent home from work before the infected inmate arrived.
Advocates say the inmate’s diagnosis underscores the threat of coronavirus for immigrants and other inmates detained at the Dover facility. In recent weeks, protesters have gathered in their cars outside the jail to call for detained immigrants to be released.
A federal judge ruled last week, in a lawsuit filed in April by the ACLU, that Strafford’s immigrant detainees are entitled to bail hearings if they’re at a heightened risk of COVID-19 infection for medical reasons.
The judge has not made a decision about whether the same goes for inmates at a lower risk. She asked jail officials for details on how they’re assessing inmates’ COVID-19 vulnerability and handling the virus overall. Another hearing is set for May 29.
Since the ACLU’s lawsuit was filed, seven immigrants have been released on bail due to medical risk, out of 11 who received hearings. ICE has released another seven vulnerable immigrants voluntarily.
The Strafford Country prison has contracted to house up to about 100 people for ICE since 2008.