Coronavirus has wreaked havoc on New York City’s 9,680 correction officers and their supervisors, reports the New York Times. So far, 1,259 have caught the virus and six have died, along with five other jail employees and two correctional health workers. One officer at the Rikers Island jail complex said he worked for nearly two weeks while feeling ill but received no help from the jail in getting a test. Another, who delivered mail to inmates, some of them sick, was told he could not use a mask that he had at home but had to wait for a city-issued one. He became infected. The virus has sickened more correction officers in New York than in most other large cities, including Chicago, Houston, Miami and Los Angeles combined.
A majority of the New York officers are black and Hispanic and come from neighborhoods with high rates of COVID-19. They have been more affected than inmates, who also have been hit hard. At least three inmates have died in custody, and two succumbed within hours of being released. Among 3,900 inmates in the city’s jails, 363 have tested positive. Correction officers and their union blame management for the high number of infections. The union points to the department’s practice of asking officers to return to work after they recovered from the illness even if they had not yet tested negative. They cited delays in providing many officers with protective gear during the critical month of March and failures to notify guards about colleagues who tested positive. They have said that extra-long work shifts — sometimes 24 hours at a stretch — contributed to the epidemic among officers. At the peak of the epidemic, 36 percent of the uniformed jail staff called in sick, leading to long shifts for those still on the job.