PITTSFIELD — A total of 12 inmates and six staff have tested positive at the Berkshire County Jail and House of Correction since the facility’s COVID-19 outbreak began in late August.
Of the infected inmates, nine are asymptomatic, and the remainder have “mild symptoms,” according to Assistant Superintendent Daniel Sheridan. None has been hospitalized.
“Knock on wood, things are OK,” Sheriff Thomas Bowler told The Eagle on Friday.
Nine inmates and three staff members who tested positive are vaccinated, according to the jail. The Berkshire County Sheriff’s Office said that about 80 to 85 percent of its staff members are vaccinated, as well as 60 percent of inmates.
As of early September, the jail had 142 inmates, according to state data.
Several family members of inmates told The Eagle they were frustrated that the virus likely had entered the jail through staff, as inmates have almost no in-person contact with the public. They also said that inmates relayed to them that staff did not always wear masks properly, over their nose and mouth.
Bowler acknowledged that some people in the jail might have relaxed their masking etiquette but stressed that masking has been a requirement in the facility since early in the coronavirus pandemic.
“Can I sit here and say some people might have gotten a little complacent over the last year-and-a-half?” he said. “That very well could’ve been. But, we have not dropped guidelines or protocols.”
Bowler also told The Eagle that his office was not actively considering a vaccine mandate for staff, in part because the office has a relatively high vaccination rate compared with the general public, and in part because of concerns about union opposition.
“A lot of it is collective bargaining issues,” he said. “We’re not considering it at this point, number one because we’re 85 percent vaccinated, but also because you run into some litigation [issues].”
Bowler cited pushback from a union representing Department of Corrections staff after Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, announced a vaccine mandate for all state administrative staff, including correctional officers. Berkshire County Sheriff’s Office staff do not fall under that mandate, he said.
This story has been updated to reflect the correct number of inmates testing positive in total, based on updated information from the jail.