COVID-19 clusters are sweeping across New York’s prison system, raising alarm in certain communities.
Over 100 inmates and 26 employees tested positive for COVID-19 in just two weeks at the Greene Correctional Facility.
That number on Wednesday was lowered to 80 inmates still infected with coronavirus, but county officials say this is already having an impact on the local community.
“This is a regional issue because that facility is a regional employer,” Greene County Administrator Shaun Groden said. “Now take that across the state. Those staff members go home at night. They have children, those children go to school and that’s why we’ve now had a situation in one of our schools where a child became positive because of a correctional officer parent.”
As Groden explained, this outbreak at the Greene Correctional Facility has been now linked to two other COVID-19 clusters, one at a school and another at an assisted living facility.
Assemblyman Chris Tague, who is currently running against Democratic challenger Mary Kraat, says that state needs to declare the facility a hot spot and ramp up its testing.
The Department of Corrections still has not tested every incarcerated individual across its prison system and correctional officers do not have to be regularly tested, only screened.
“We’re respectfully calling on Governor Cuomo and his administration to take immediate action before our correctional facilities suffer the same tragic fate as our nursing homes did at the beginning of the pandemic,” Tague said.
The Elmira Correctional Facility is also seeing a spike in COVID-19 cases.
There are currently 278 incarcerated individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19. Jose Saldana, director of the Releasing Aging People in Prison Campaign says that the governor needs to release at-risk inmates.
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy just signed a bill that could allow almost 3,000 inmates out on early release.
“You cannot wait until you get a real serious catastrophe in your hands,” Saldana explained. “We must start decarcerating as soon as possible with those who are most vulnerable to this virus.”
Saldana says they are also hearing reports of correctional officers not following safety protocols inside these facilities, nor wearing masks.
The State Correctional Officers Union (NYSCOPBA) president Mike Powers says this is not true, but they are in support of increased testing for their officers.
“Greene will have the ability to have their staff rapid tested and get a result in 15 minutes,” Powers said. “Myself, being an individual who had COVID, I would support it and I would encourage our staff to take advantage of that free test.”
The Department of Corrections has ceased visitation at both the Elmira and Greene correctional facilities until further notice.
A spokesperson for DOCCS sent a statement, writing, “The Department takes seriously its duty to ensure the safety and wellbeing of those that work and live in our correctional facilities. During this difficult time, the Department is appreciative of everyone’s patience and understanding as we continue to face this virus together.”
Greene County officials say the spike in COVID-19 cases at their facility has driven up the total positive infection rate for their whole region. This means that movie theaters will not be allowed to reopen on Friday in Greene County.
Correction: A previous version of the story incorrectly identified the jail as Greene County Correctional. The jail with COVID-19 positive tests is the state-run Greene Correctional Facility. A video previously posted with this story contained incorrect footage.