Corrections officers at New York City’s largest jail facility are falling victim to coronavirus so fast that the cases are now comparable to other workplaces that are among the most infected, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Officials said more than 800 city corrections officers at Rikers Island Prison Complex have been diagnosed with COVID-19 so far, and eight have died of it. The city has not revealed exactly what percentage of the officers the infections represent, but union officials say it is 70 percent to 80 percent of cases.
That makes the system similar to the rate of infection in the Smithfield Foods pork plant in South Dakota or the USS Roosevelt, which has seen nearly its entire crew infected.
Among Rikers inmates, there have been 10 deaths and more than 1,200 infections in the city’s jail system.
“It’s a devastating number, the most I’ve heard of at any one facility,” said David Michaels, former head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and professor at George Washington University’s School of Public Health, told the WSJ. “Correctional officers and others working on the island, as well as its prisoners, were no doubt exposed and then brought it home to their family and community.”
Rikers Island, which sits in the New York’s East River, houses 4,000 inmates in eight jails. The correction officers are considered essential workers, meaning they cannot work from home and are consistently exposed to infected inmates.
The Correction Officers Benevolent Association, the union representing the city’s 20,000 active and retired jail officers, sued the city several weeks ago because it allegedly did not provide enough protective equipment. In a settlement, the city agreed to provide testing, distribute N95 masks, and enhance cleaning and sanitation. and provide hand sanitizers for officers.
“Our decision to agree to this settlement avoids having to needlessly drag this lawsuit on for months, without producing any tangible results for our members, whose safety is our number one priority,” the union said in a statement. “However, this agreement includes a provision that if the City does not follow through with the settlement terms, we can go back to court and renew our demands.”
The NYC Corrections Department told the WSJ, however, that it had been focusing on officer safety in “a dedicated, coordinated and focused departmental response to this from the beginning.”
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