MONTPELIER — State officials say an inmate has tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

At a news conference Wednesday, Secretary Mike Smith of the state Agency of Human Services confirmed an inmate at the Northwest State Correctional Facility in Swanton has tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19. Three staff members at the facility have also tested positive. A staff member at Northern State Correctional Facility in Newport has tested positive, but no inmates there have yet.

Smith said the inmate has been isolated. He said the Department of Corrections has been planning for this eventuality for nearly a month.

Smith said every inmate and staff member at that facility will be tested. The Swanton facility was put on full lockdown Monday after the third staff member tested positive and Smith said all other facilities have been put on partial lockdown.

Smith said all staff at all of the state’s prisons will be required to wear masks starting Thursday to help stop the spread of the virus. All inmates also will be required to wear masks, he said.

He said the Swanton facility has six negative pressure rooms, and the inmate is being housed in one of those room. The rooms don’t allow air to escape to help stop the spread of the virus. He said the prison in Springfield has four more such rooms. If those fill up, he said inmates who test positive will be sent to Northeast Correctional Complex in St. Johnsbury, where they will be isolated from others who have not tested positive. All of the inmates who were housed at that facility have been moved to the nearby work camp run by DOC.

State officials have been working on getting some inmates out where appropriate. Inmates and defense attorneys have also been filing motions asking for release out of fear of catching the virus in prison. They include people who are either facing or have been convicted of serious violent crimes. Smith was adamant Wednesday those inmates would not be released.

Gov. Phil Scott said public safety has been one of his primary focuses since taking office. Scott said that’s why the state is doing everything in a responsible and safe manner to release who they are releasing.

“We can’t just open the door,” he said.

Scott has put in place an executive order telling everyone to stay home to stop the spread of the virus. The order calls for the closure of all non-essential businesses and the closure of all motels, hotels and inns unless they are housing people approved by the state, such as the homeless or health care workers. The order has an end date of April 15, but Scott said Wednesday that order is going to be extended Friday. He didn’t say for how long. Scott said depending on how things go next week he might modify the order, but he again didn’t give specifics.

“I want to stress we are data-driven. We’ll watch what’s happening and make sure we’re doing everything we can to keep Vermonters safe,” he said.

Dr. Mark Levine, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Health, announced 30 more people have tested positive for the virus, bringing the total in the state to 605. Levine said there are no new deaths to report so that number stays at 23.

Officials also announced Wednesday the state will receive $8.7 million from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The money will go to 11 health centers in the state as part of the fight against the pandemic.

The Plainfield Health Center will receive $648,365, Gifford Medical Center in Randolph will receive $744,365 and the Community Health Centers of the Rutland Region will receive $1.1 million.

eric.blaisdell @timesargus.com

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