ALDEN — Just before Thanksgiving, 27 inmates at the Erie County Correctional Facility tested positive for COVID-19, a spike in cases that reflect a serious health care dilemma for inmates and county employees alike.
While county officials noted in a statement that all inmates who tested positive have been housed in a specific area of the jail, that gives county correctional officers and other jail staff little comfort.
Since the most recent COVID-19 spike in the jail inmate population, several corrections officers have also tested positive for COVID-19 and numerous more inmates and staff were awaiting test results. As this edition was going to press, fewer than half of the jail employees had been tested.
Jail officials are sending an average of 80-100 COVID-19 tests to outside labs, with an average turnaround time for results being a week to 10 days.
CSEA union officials are urging the county to expand rapid testing at the jail. Union officials note that the extended result wait times are unacceptable and are a contributing factor to the spread of the virus at the jail.
On December 8, CSEA Erie County Local President Denise Szymura and other union officials sent a certified letter to County Executive Mark Poloncarz and Health Commissioner Dr. Gale R. Burnstein to request additional resources be allocated to the suburban county jail.
CSEA Erie County Correctional Unit President Mark Priore said COVID-19 can create a more serious problem for local jails, as compared to state prisons, because their populations are more transient and inmates usually stay for shorter durations. He added that implementing any form of rapid testing right away would be a step in the right direction.
“To think jail employees are subjected to such a high risk of infection by just going to work and doing their job should be incredibly alarming to the community,” said CSEA Labor Relations Specialist Deb Mueller.
“Everyone who is employed at the correctional facility in Alden deserves to know their health and well-being is a top priority, as well as the inmates who are under their supervision. Right now, confidence in jail management’s ability to handle the spike in cases is at an all-time low. We are asking the county to act in good faith and to remedy this issue now,” said Mueller.
“While we understand most jails and prisons throughout New York State have tried to implement policies and procedures to detect and slow the transmission of the virus, they have fallen short of what I would call a reasonable expectation,” said CSEA Western Region Occupational & Health Specialist Chris DaVita. “It is incumbent on every municipality to follow or exceed the mandated executive orders initiated by the governor’s office. During this recent spike, management has not lived up to the promise of keeping our employees and inmates safe from illness. We have to be better at risk reduction.”
Priore and other CSEA union officials are continuing to work with management to rectify issues with regard to improved testing capabilities.
— Ove Overmyer