Courtesy of the DOC

State prison inmates are helping to create fabric masks for healthcare providers throughout the state who may not have access to N95 filtering face piece respirator masks or surgical masks while dealing with the influx of patients potentially infected with the coronavirus.

Offenders working in the state Department of Corrections Correctional Enterprises of Connecticut unit are usually crafting items such as furniture or highway signs to gain valuable work skills for when they are released.

But correction officials said Thursday that the unit has developed a prototype for fabric masks that can be used for emergency situations when no other option for health care providers is available. The unit has created 3,300 masks since Monday and is expected to ramp up production to 1,200 to 1,400 a day, officials said.

The unit operates several production sites within DOC facilities throughout the state.

“This is outstanding – staff as well as offenders – working for the greater good,” Correction Commissioner Rollin Cook said. “At the heart of this effort is an underlying respect for human dignity and the desire to help keep people safe.”

Connecticut along with other states is facing shortages of N95 respirators and protective gear for emergency responders and health care workers as the threat of the virus grows. State leaders, hospitals and towns have been putting out the call for donations of protective items as the number of people in Connecticut who test positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, continues to skyrocket.

As of Thursday, 1012 residents had tested positive and 21 residents have died from the disease, according health officials and Gov. Ned Lamont. Two DOC employees working in state prisons are among those who have tested positive, agency officials confirmed.

The masks that the CEC unit is producing are not approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, DOC officials said. But, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has acknowledged shortages of facemasks and other equipment and “as a last resort, it may necessary for healthcare providers to use masks that have not been evaluated or approved,” officials said.

“The CEC staff and the individuals producing the masks understand the importance and seriousness of the situation at hand,” said CEC Director James Gaglione. “Everyone is coming together to help out.”