Officials have ordered tuberculosis tests on all inmates and staff at the Northern State Correctional Facility because authorities learned Wednesday a routine screening showed several people there may have been exposed.

John Gorczyk, commissioner of the Vermont Corrections Department, downplayed the seriousness of the situation this morning -- and he vehemently denied news reports the prison is under quarantine.

"There & #039;s no quarantine -- we & #039;re just not moving anyone in or out right now," Gorczky told The Caledonian-Record.

According to him, people at the prison are screened annually for TB, getting tested in their birth month. Wednesday, officials learned some recently tested people might have the antibodies for TB.

Gorczyk said they & #039;re re-testing those people to see if in fact the test results were right. If they were, the next step would be to run chest x-rays on someone as part of determining whether he/she has the disease itself.

"We had a similar situation about four to five years ago at the St. Albans facility," said Gorczyk, adding that it took officials about a week to run the tests that determined no one had TB.

Gorczyk was upset this morning about hearing wire service reports claiming the facility was under quarantine. He even objected to the use of the word "scare" to describe the situation.

However, authorities have moved to isolate the inmate population there for now. Gorczyk revealed that yesterday, three inmates had been in the process of being transferred to Rutland when authorities learned of the TB tests.

"All three were turned around and returned there (to Newport)," said Gorczyk, adding that officials are checking into other recent transfers.

He did not have information yet early this morning on what authorities might do about anyone recently released from the facility. At least one person -- Greg Reed, the former state representative from St. Johnsbury doing time for murder -- got let out of Newport on furlough late last week.

According to Gorczyk, corrections officials are continuing to work with Health Department officials in determining how to respond to the situation.

Also, Gorczyk said this morning there & #039;s been no decision yet on whether to restrict visitors to the prison. Again, he said he wants to talk further with the Health Department about that.

According to him, Newport has about 350 inmates, and there are about 120 people who work there.

The Associated Press reports no one at the prison has been diagnosed as having TB. The tests had shown the presence of TB antibodies, which are cells the body produces to fight the disease.

State Health Commissioner Jan Carney reported more tests will be done in the next few days to determine whether anyone at the prison actually has contracted the disease.

Carney said TB is a bacterial infection most often infecting the lungs and spread by coughing or sneezing. It can be treated with antibiotics.

While the situation lasts, no new inmates will be admitted, and inmates already there won & #039;t be transferred to other prisons.

NSCF Superintendent Kathy Lanman said she wasn & #039;t allowed to comment on the situation. She referred all calls to corrections department clinical director Tom Powell, who did not return calls Wednesday from The Caledonian-Record.

Some town officials in both Newport City and neighboring Derby, which the prison also borders, seemed surprised to learn of the TB scare, saying they hadn & #039;t been informed about it.

City Manager John Ward said he hadn & #039;t heard about it until he got a call from the press at home Wednesday night.

"I am a little surprised somebody (from the state) didn & #039;t give me a call. I thought they would give me heads up."

Newport City Health Officer Marilyn Kelly said she first learned about it on television. She felt that although state officials should have notified somebody in the city on what was happening at the prison facility, she speculated that because it is "a state thing and not a city thing, it is the reason why they handled it that way."

Staff writer Terrill Albee contributed to this report.

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