There’s plenty of room at the Comfort Inn in St. Johnsbury.
But only if you’re a corrections officer or member of the COVID-19 medical team treating inmates just up the road at Northeast Regional Correctional Facility (NERCF) on Route 5.
A specially selected group of corrections officers and medical professionals are at the facility treating 32 inmates that recently tested positive for coronavirus. The inmates were infected during an outbreak at Northwest State Correctional Facility in St. Albans and transferred to NERCF where the Vermont Department of Corrections (DOC) has set up a COVID-19 surge site complete with extensive decontamination procedures.
As a precaution against spreading the virus into the community, The DOC made arrangements for the COVID-19 workers to stay at The Comfort Inn - if they chose to - instead of going home after their shift ended. But when hotel employees expressed concern about possibly contracting COVID-19 from the workers the DOC made a unique offer to hotel owner Murphy Realty.
They offered to staff the hotel with DOC personnel.
“We were actually able to negotiate a deal with the management team there to basically run the hotel ourselves,” said DOC Facilities Executive Al Cormier on Monday. “We have almost 40 people staying at the hotel between medical and correctional staff. So there’s a lot of people taking advantage of that.”
Probation officers are now splitting time at the hotel providing support services to the NERCF workers.
“They’re taking care of keys, they’re taking care any needs that the (DOC) staff may have,” said Cormier. “Laundry, groceries, anything like that. Our staff are pretty much running the hotel.”
There are no chamber maids at the hotel. Workers are responsible for cleaning their own rooms but there’s a system in place to support that.
“There’s a couple of laundry carts out there so if guys need bedding they’ll throw their old stuff in and then grab new sheets and towels from the lobby that are stacked up there,” said Cormier.
The DOC has contracted with the Comfort Inn for several years to house cadets attending their Corrections Academy held in the St.Johnsbury-Lyndon industrial Park.
The hotel closed after the emergence of COVID-19 but Cormier said they were open to re-opening the hotel for DOC staff.
“They agreed to open for us as essential staff,” said Cormier. “Initially, their maintenance guy was coming in a couple hours a day and their general manager was coming in a couple hours a day - just to check in. But after the move there and the concerns in the community they became concerned too… We run five academies a year so we’ve had a good working relationship with the Comfort Inn for several years now.”
Cormier said the numbers of COVID-19 infected inmates at the St. Albans prison have leveled-off for the most part with just one new case over the weekend. That brings the total number of inmates who have positive tested positive for the virus at 38 - along with 17 St. Albans staff members. There was one inmate who tested negative for COVID-19 at Southwest State Correctional Facility in Springfield and one staff member at Northern State Correctional Facility in Newport who tested positive.
Cormier said that staff member has now fully recovered.