An inmate at the Middleton House of Correction has died due to complications from the novel coronavirus, the Essex County Sheriff’s Department said Thursday.
The 41-year-old man died Wednesday night while being treated at the Lahey Clinic in Burlington. He’s the first Essex County inmate to die from the disease, according to a department spokeswoman.
Sheriff Kevin Coppinger’s office declined to release the man’s identity, citing a need to first notify the man’s family. He was being held on drug and domestic violence-related charges, and had been in custody of the sheriff since Feb. 18, the department said.
“My heartfelt thoughts and prayers are with this man’s family,” Coppinger said in a released statement.
It’s unclear if the man is the first county jail inmate in Massachusetts to die from the disease.
County jails typically hold people that are accused of crimes and awaiting trial. At least 110 people confined to county jails across the state have tested positive for the coronavirus, recent court documents show. And about half of those infected inmates, as of April 26, were housed in Essex County.
A sheriff’s spokesman said Thursday that 60 inmates have tested positive, and 45 of them have already recovered from the disease. The department had tested just over 131 inmates, as of April 26.
Essex county jails hold just over 1,000 inmates.
To head off the spread of the virus, the department created a intake room for isolating newly incarcerated inmates. It also suspended its work-release program and began providing inmates with extra soap, Coppinger said in an interview last month. “If we can keep it out of here, that’s the goal,” he said.
The inmate’s death on Wednesday comes amid a pitched fight over the response to the coronavirus threat inside Massachusetts’ jails and prisons. Inmate advocates have warned that social distancing and other precautions are nearly impossible to implement inside prisons and jails.
In April, a coalition of advocates and defense attorneys petitioned the state’s highest court to reduce the number of people behind bars. Those locked up in county jails, where inmates move in and out with greater frequency, are especially vulnerable to the virus, they argued.
The court agreed, ordering authorities to establish a process to expedite the release of qualified pretrial detainees. About 600 county jail inmates have been released since the order.