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Berkshire House Of Correction Says Vaccine Rollout Going Smoothly

A green awning with a sheriff's badge logo is in front of a beige building under a blue sky
Josh Landes
The Berkshire House of Correction in Lanesborough, Massachusetts.

As the COVID-19 vaccination rollout continues across Massachusetts, the Berkshire House of Correction in Lanesborough is taking part. Nationwide, congregate settings like county jails have struggled to control coronavirus spread. WAMC spoke with facility Assistant Superintendent Daniel Sheridan about the effort – among staff and inmates alike.

SHERIDAN: What we have right now is we have 75 inmates out of 133, or 57%, that have had at least one vaccine. 59 inmates, or 45%, have completed both vaccines. And we just got in [the] Johnson and Johnson vaccine, which we're planning to administer on Thursday. We did have a team from Harvard Medical School, faculty and students, come out and speak to our inmates on the 26th of March. And that resulted in 30 additional inmates agreeing to- Well, 30 additional individuals, it was both staff and inmates as a result of that. It was kind of an “ask me anything” about the COVID vaccine. So inmates could ask any questions they had, staff could ask questions, and that resulted in 30 additional people coming forward and saying they would take the vaccine.

WAMC: Yeah, what are the stats like among members of the staff as well?

So we've got 178 staff that have been administered the first vaccine. And 164 staff have been given both doses. We haven't had the Johnson and Johnson one dose yet. Like I said, we're going administer that this later this week, but we've been doing a two dose Madonna vaccine to date. So we've got 164 staff that have completed both, and 178, or 14 more, that have only had their first dose and are awaiting their second.

What kind of guidance have you gotten from the state level about the rollout in the House of Correction?

Well, obviously, they prioritized inmates and correctional staff to be vaccinated early on, because they felt they were a high risk population. So we've been in regular contact weekly with DPH about the rollout, about when we'll be getting vaccine, about how much we're using. And we report daily to DPH and weekly to the SJC about the vaccine rollout, about our numbers in terms of positive tests, about inmates hospitalized, about inmates who've been quarantined, all that kind of stuff. All that's reported.

As far as protocol when folks opt to not get the vaccine, do you have any guidance on how to interact with people who are choosing to not take it?

We have the same protocols in place. In other words, people are still masked, we're still doing, you know, six foot distancing, social distancing, we're still encouraging hand washing, we're still doing even in spite of the CDC’s most recent declaration that surface, you know, the ability to come down with COVID due to surface contamination is not all that great. We're still going through and, you know, still conducting thorough cleaning. So if people elect not to do it, I mean, we've tried to put out as much education as we can about the vaccine. We've tried to put out information to dispel a lot of the myths that are out there about vaccines, and then bringing in the Harvard team to try to give a pure educational information sessions and questions and answers from highly renowned medical personnel so people could ask them questions directly if they had reservations about taking the vaccine. So we're just trying to try to educate people to get them to encouraging them to take the vaccine.

At this point, over a year into the pandemic, by and large, how would you assess the way in which the House of Correction weathered this extraordinary public health crisis?

I think we've done an excellent job, and I think we've been extremely fortunate. We have had no inmates hospitalized result of COVID, we have had no deaths of inmates as a result of COVID. We have had one inmate who was positive at another facility and then I believe was a court transfer here, and we tested him naturally when he came in. And he was positive but he was asymptomatic. He had been positive, we expected him to be positive. Other than that, we've had no inmate positives at all. So it's been very good, it’s been through a lot of diligence and hard work by our staff to try to, you know, keep the facility clean, keep the masks in place, follow the protocols of the CDC and the DPH.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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