The state’s judicial marshals were issued thermometers to take the temperature of anyone who is being brought into court by police departments for arraignment without instructions, cleaning materials or additional protective equipment, according to union officials.
“They were issued no personal protective equipment including face masks and there are no policy guidelines,” said Joe Gaetano, president of the IBPO Local 731 which represents the state’s judicial marshals. “Then there is the whole question of whether someone will voluntarily open their mouth.”
Gaetano heard about the policy Monday from marshals who are working at the 13 courthouses in the state that are remaining open during the public health crisis brought on by the spread of the novel coronavirus called COVID-19.
Judicial Branch officials did not immediately respond to a request to discuss the new policy as of 1 p.m.
The branch had already curtailed court proceedings and services to limit in-person interaction which can spread the virus. Gov. Ned Lamont announced Sunday that so far eight state residents have died and 327 people in Connecticut have tested positive for COVID-19, which causes fever, coughing and difficulty breathing.
Gaetano was already concerned that not enough was being done to protect judicial marshals, particularly those who transport prisoners and who interact with the public in courtrooms and those being held in lockups waiting for proceedings.
Gaetano said March 13 that the marshals cannot wash their hands until they get to the next courthouse as they are transporting inmates. “Nobody really knows how this thing is spreading,” Gaetano said. “It’s an unknown for everyone.”
Cleaning the transport vehicles on a daily basis “is almost impossible,” Gaetano said. “There’s probably about 50 vehicles on the road across the day and they would need to be cleaned by a third party contractor.”
The bulk of the state’s 680 judicial marshals are not showing up for work on a daily basis since court functions have been curtailed and most courthouses have been temporarily closed. They are getting paid and those who are working are doing so on a voluntary, rotating basis, Gaetano said.
He began receiving calls Monday morning that the roughly 200 marshals who are still on the job had been given the type of oral thermometers that can be purchased at chain drug stores such as CVS and Walgreens, but no instruction or policy documents on their use.
“We have not been formally informed,” Gaetano said. “I’m learning about this from guys in the field.”
Judicial marshals routinely carry gloves which are used during pat downs of prisoners and medical emergencies in the courthouse, he said.
But there were no cleaning or disinfecting supplies or N95 face masks issued with the thermometers and no instructions on what marshals should do if a prisoner who has been brought in by police is determined to have a fever, Gaetano said.
“They are going to have to be within six feet of someone to get their temperature,” he said. “The branch has not informed us of how they should do it, who gets tested and things like, do you have to watch them to make sure they keep the thermometer in their mouth?”
Gaetano also questioned whether judicial marshals should be tested for the virus since they are working “on the front lines” with the public.
“All I know for sure at this point is that this is happening,” Gaetano said.