MIDDLETON — Six inmates and two staff members have tested positive for COVID-19 at the Middleton Jail, the Essex County sheriff confirmed on Monday. 

Sheriff Kevin Coppinger said the six inmates and three others who have been tested were residents of the 240D housing unit at the Manning Road facility. 

Inmates in that unit are now being isolated from the rest of the prisoners at the facility, Coppinger said. 

Coppinger said the jail is also working on setting up a hotline for family members and attorneys, which he hopes to have running no later than Tuesday.

"We've been doing our damnedest to keep it out of here," Coppinger acknowledged about the coronavirus, which causes COVID-19. 

Of the six inmates confirmed so far, one has been "medically cleared" to return to his housing unit from the medical unit, but remains there as of Monday. 

The two staff members were correctional officers. One went on medical leave two weeks ago and has been cleared to return to work, said Coppinger. The second remains on medical leave. 

None of the inmates have been hospitalized. Coppinger said his staff has been in contact with area hospitals and the Middleton Fire Department to prepare for that possibility. 

The news comes just days after the Supreme Judicial Court declined a petition to release certain categories of prisoners based on age, medical history, parole eligibility and time left on their sentences. The court concluded that it has no authority to change the sentences of convicted offenders, though it did allow defendants to ask for reconsideration of pre-trial detention in light of the pandemic and for judges to consider the pandemic in making bail decisions.  

The court also set up a reporting process to track the virus in the state's jails and prisons. 

Coppinger said he has been submitting those reports to the court's "special master" as required. He also said he's been in daily contact with Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett to discuss whether there are inmates who could be released. 

The jail has also moved two women inmates to the Women in Transition facility in Salisbury, and converted an area of the jail where they were held to a non-coronavirus medical ward for older or medically compromised inmates who would typically require daily medical care. 

Coppinger said the decline in arrests has helped reduce the jail population. 

The jail's 1,200 inmates range in age from their late teens to elderly men. 

Coppinger said that jail officials learned of the first three positive tests last week, and had five as of Sunday, with a sixth being confirmed Monday morning. The three additional inmates whose results are pending were tested due to their proximity to the prisoners who tested positive.   

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at jmanganis@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis. 

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