The New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision is now allowing all staff to wear either an N-95 respirator or surgical-type mask while on duty inside of correctional facilities, but they have to bring their own.
Acting Commissioner Anthony Annucci notified all DOCCS employees in a memo sent Monday. He said he made the decision after extensive discussions with the various bargaining unit representatives in order to continue to protect the staff and the incarcerated population from exposure to coronavirus.
"While neither the (Center for Disease Control) nor the (Department of Health) has recommended the use of these personal protective devices in the correctional setting, beyond what the Department has already provided, to the extent staff already possesses these items and will not be reducing availability to frontline healthcare workers, the Department will not oppose their use if there is a chance that they may slow or even stop the spread of the virus from entering our facilities," Annucci wrote.
Incarcerated individuals who are under quarantine will also be issued a surgical-type mask, according to the memo. DOCCS has been and will continue to provide personal protective equipment and masks to staff who are required to interact with an inmate who has tested positive for the virus or has shown symptoms.
The department has previously taken other steps including suspending visitations, stopping intake from county jails, and limiting the practice of double bunking.
"Since implementing these actions, the Department has had a number of staff as well as twenty of our over 43,000 incarcerated individuals test positive for the virus," Annucci wrote. "Every individual who has tested positive or has displayed symptoms has been isolated and a contract trace completed leading to others being quarantined and monitored."
State Senator Pat Gallivan, R-Elma, sent a letter Tuesday to the governor and Annucci, asking them to grant corrections officers, supervisors and parole officers permission to wear basic personal protective equipment while on duty.
"Unfortunately, over 60 DOCCS employees, including the president of the union representing the State’s correctional officers, have tested positive for COVID-19," he wrote. "Authorizing the use of N-95 masks, gloves and disposable smocks will protect both said officers and, importantly, the inmates and those on parole from potential infection."
NY Republican Chairman Nick Langworthy made the same call for action this week, as well.