The Massachusetts Department of Correction announced Tuesday there are now eight inmates who have tested positive for COVID-19 in the state’s prison system.
The prisoners are housed at the Massachusetts Treatment Center in Bridgewater, where news of a first infected inmate was announced on Saturday.
Correction officials said staff are using “personal protective equipment in high risk areas and while interacting with quarantined inmates,” according to an emailed statement.
There also are now two corrections staff and one medical provider who have confirmed cases of coronavirus — two at the treatment center and one at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution in Shirley — state officials said.
The news came as prison advocates, lawyers, lawmakers and prosecutors are pushing efforts to reduce the state’s incarcerated population concerned about an outbreak in the state system of jails and prisons that incarcerated some 17,000 people.
“We must reduce the number of people that are behind the wall,’’ said Randy Gioia, deputy chief counsel at the Committee for Public Counsel Services, the state’s public defender’s office. “If someone gets the virus, it’s like a tinderbox. It will spread like wildfire."
Among the efforts, the Committee for Public Counsel Services and the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers on Tuesday filed an “emergency petition” asking the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to act quickly to reduce the state’s incarcerated population.
The legislation asks the state to limit people taken into custody, release prisoners awaiting trial and those already sentenced who are not a safety risk.
Many of the state's District Attorneys alreadysaid they are working to identify inmates who are vulnerable to the illness and may be released early.
On Tuesday, the Northwestern District Attorney’s office said officials have agreed to release 19 of 76 pretrial detainees held in the Franklin and Hampshire jails who should be let go within “the coming days.”
Across the state, public defenders and private attorneys have been filing motions in court requesting the release of pretrial inmates arguing the coronavirus risk creates changed circumstance.
Gioia said lawyers are filing remotely because the Supreme Judicial Court closed the state’s trial courts until at least April 6 except for emergency matters. The process is slow but he’s hearing of some successes, he said.
“We have to get our people out and yet the doors to the courthouse are closed,’’ he said.
In other efforts, state Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, a Democrat from Northampton, filed emergency legislation to require that officials review cases of pretrial and sentenced inmates to see who could be released early. The legislation includes a review of prisoners held on cash bail under $10,000, those who are more than 50 years old and those vulnerable to the disease because they are sick or elderly.
Sabadosa said the legislation could receive a hearing date as early as next week. As of Tuesday afternoon, there were more than 20 co-sponsors of the bill.
“If the virus runs rampant through a prison or jail, which could easily become a hot spot, then that’s going to be brought back to the community,’’ Sabadosa told WGBH News.