Amid Coronavirus Crisis, Officers' Union Says City Needs to Better Protect Members From Virus

By: 
COURTNEY GROSS

As of Wednesday morning, 441 correction staff members had tested positive for the new coronavirus, and the number of people out sick has more than doubled. 

“The reality is we are losing people that we know and that are close to us,” Elias Husamudeen, the president of the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, told NY1 via phone.

For weeks, the correction officers' union has been calling for better protective equipment for its members. Up until Friday, only officers in quarantined areas were receiving masks. But late last week, a state court ordered the city to provide N95 masks to officers overseeing quarantined units or positive inmates, and other masks to the rest of the staff.

The order came at the same time as the mayor advising all New Yorkers to cover their faces when they leave the house.

The court also said correction officers need to be tested for fevers and for the virus before their shifts.

“For the officers who require any form of mask or face covering, yes, that has been sent and and will continue to be resupplied as needed. And for inmates, the same,” Mayor de Blasio said Wednesday.

The city says they have given out those masks. The unions disputes that, saying those supplies are still inconsistent and sanitation is spotty.

“I went there this morning. I toured for hours. The intake areas have not been sanitized,” said Husamudeen. “I am telling you that officers have gloves and masks and hand sanitizer that were provided to them by the union and the Department of Correction is not providing correction officers PPE on a consistent basis. It’s really that simple. The fact is they are lying about what they are doing. They are inconsistent, Courtney, they are not consistent.”

The city says it already screens officers before they start their shifts for symptoms of COVID-19. But it is fighting the court’s order to do COVID-19 screening of officers at city jails. A spokesperson said that was “unfeasible and not advised by medical or scientific experts”

The city and the union are expected to be back in court on Thursday.