NYC correction officers ordered to return to work after testing positive for coronavirus

By: 
CHELSIA ROSE MARCIUS

Ten Rikers Island correction officers refused to return to their posts early Wednesday morning after working 24-hour shifts at a jail with nearly 200 inmates who have coronavirus, while two others with confirmed cases were told to return to work, the Daily News has learned.

A total of 18 officers redeployed from Anna M. Kross Center to Eric M. Taylor Center — a facility that reopened last month to handle the influx of COVID-19 cases — worked triple tours without meals or protective masks, according to several emails sent by Correction Department staffers.

Nearby at North Infirmary Command — a Rikers facility where people in custody receive medical care — two officers with confirmed cases of coronavirus told The News they were ordered to go back to work against the recommendations of their personal doctors.

The new developments come a day after The News reported that at least six correction officers, one captain and two non-uniformed members of service have died due to coronavirus. As of Wednesday morning, 441 Correction Department staffers and 287 people in custody had tested positive for COVID-19.

Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association President Elias Husamudeen said the new developments are another indication that the overwhelmed agency has not done enough to protect its personnel.

“Officers assigned to EMTC — which was opened to exclusively house all COVID-19 positive inmates — are being forced to work triple tours, often missing meals and coming in on their personal days. Officers who have tested positive, who are out sick and who still display symptoms are being told by (the Health Management Division) at DOC that they should come back to work even as their personal doctors have told them otherwise. The truth is the department has clearly shown that the well being of our members is their least concern,” Husamudeen said, noting that the union is sending a letter to the head of the division threatening legal action.

“The (department) publicly claims that the health and safety of our members are their No. 1 priority — but the reality is that they are directly responsible for increasing the exposure of officers who have not yet tested positive for COVID by not giving them PPE and they’re punishing the ones who have already tested positive,” he added.

One North Infirmary Command officer — who is 30 years old, from the Bronx, and has over two years on the job — tested positive for coronavirus March 29, medical records show. The officer said a Correction Department Health Management Division physician told him on Tuesday to return to work even though a personal doctor said the officer should not go back before April 19.

The HMD doctor said the officer would have to contact the payroll department if he did not return to work immediately.

“(He told me) ‘We need everyone back to work, it doesn’t matter if you’re still having symptoms. If you don’t have a fever you have to come back,’” said the officer, whose mother, father and sister have all tested positive for COVID-19.

“I felt offended ... I felt almost like threatened to come back,” he said. “I’m still sick, (and) he doesn’t care about my well-being or the well-being of my coworkers.”

Another officer at North Infirmary Command also tested positive on March 29. A Health Management Division doctor told him on Friday that he had to return to work this week even though he was running a 100.5-degree fever, the officer told The News.

“(The doctor) said, ‘That’s not a fever,’” said the 33-year-old officer, who lives in Queens and has been on the job since 2011. “I told him I still had a cough, still had body aches, but he didn't care about that either.”

Two doctors outside of the Correction Department sent the officer notes on Monday advising him not to go back to work. The officer contacted HMD multiple times through phone and email to explain the situation and provide documentation of his illness, but said he has not heard back.

“It’s frustrating, it just shows they don’t care,” the officer said. “It’s kind of disgusting honestly. People are dying ... They need to fix this or they’re going to get (more) people sick.”