NYC union buys 25,000 N95 masks to protect correction officers from coronavirus


COBA president Elias Husamudeen(Go Nakamura for New York Daily N/New York Daily News)

The city’s correction officer union has purchased 25,000 N95 masks to protect officers working in city jails from coronavirus, the Daily News has learned.
“We wanted to secure these masks for officers so that we don’t have to wait around for the (Department of Correction) to give them the supplies they need,” said Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association President Elias Husamudeen.
“(We did this) so they can walk around and feel a little bit more safe rather than having to depend on DOC to give them something they need.”
The shipment of N95s — which come from a supplier in New Jersey — arrived on Thursday, union officials said. They will begin distributing the masks to officers on Friday.

The purchase comes just days after the city’s Correction Department gave jail staffers permission to use their own N95 or surgical masks — and weeks after the union boss said his members needed more equipment to weather the outbreak.

The Correction Department vowed on Sunday to distribute more N95s, according to an internal memo obtained by The News. But it also acknowledged that it had a limited quantity of masks and would prioritize staffers in high-risk areas.
“We were fighting with (the department) because they weren’t giving us the supplies,” Husamudeen said. “As soon as they said you guys can wear your own masks, we jumped into action.”

The union has also called for a centralized testing site at Rikers Island to screen officers coming in and out of the city jails for coronavirus symptoms.
More than half of the City Council supports the testing site proposal. Councilman Keith Powers, Chair of the Council’s Committee on Criminal Justice and 27 other members signed a letter to Mayor de Blasio this week urging him to set up the screening station.

“Correction officers have the toughest job in the city,” said Councilmember Robert Holden (D-Queens), who is also a member of the criminal justice committee and supports the testing site idea.
“They’re the forgotten people in this,” he added. “It’s easy to do, we just need the mayor to make it happen.”

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As of Wednesday, 37 Correction Department staffers and 75 inmates had tested positive for coronavirus. De Blasio said on Wednesday that 200 inmates had been released from city custody, part of an ongoing effort to curb the spread of COVID-19.
But Husamudeen said the increasing number of cases at Rikers Island and other local facilities means the city must do more.
“The jails are the epicenter (of the outbreak),” he said. “City Hall is being slow in taking action, but we haven’t stopped fighting...This site needs to happen. It just makes sense.”