Four days after union officials expressed concerns that there was no centralized location to deal with inmates sick with the coronavirus, the Department of Correction moved dozens of offenders who have tested positive for COVID-19 to the Northern Correctional Institution, according to an internal memo obtained by CTNewsJunkie.
Northern is the state’s maximum security prison with an estimated inmate population of about 75 prior to the coronavirus pandemic which has created a public health emergency in Connecticut and throughout the world.
As of Tuesday, 44 inmates throughout the state’s prison system and 41 DOC employees mostly working at the state’s prisons have tested positive for COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, according to the agency.
DOC Commissioner Rollin Cook has come under fire in recent weeks by advocates who say not enough is being done to release prisoners or keep those who are incarcerated safe from the virus which is spread by close contact.
Cook hinted Monday during a press conference with Gov. Ned Lamont that the agency was trying to solidify plans to bring all inmates who have tested positive to one location.
He announced Wednesday that inmates were being transferred to Northern which has an infrastructure that includes separate ventilation systems for each unit, allowing air in and out without any recirculation throughout the housing units, Cook said.
The move is in line with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which recommend establishing medical isolation units in correctional facilities to deal with offenders who test positive for COVID-19, Cook said.
“Thanks in part to the Agency’s concerted effort to responsibly release offenders, our population is down by more than 800 individuals since March 1, allowing us
the ability to isolate offenders who have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus in a centralized location,” Cook said. “Housing those who have the virus at the Northern facility is in line with the CDC’s guidance. It is also in the best interest of everyone.”
Union officials representing correction officers and other staff expressed concerns Friday that offenders have tested positive weren’t being adequately quarantined from the rest of the prison population.
According to a memo issued to DOC staff Tuesday, offenders who have tested positive were moved to Northern where they will remain as they are being treated by prison health care staff.
Those offenders who test positive and are housed at York Correctional Institution for females, Manson Youth Institution for young adult males and Garner Correctional Institution which houses male inmates with mental health conditions will remain at those facilities due to their specialized populations, DOC officials said.
So far no offenders at Garner or Manson have tested positive for COVID-19 and none have been tested, according to figures provided by the DOC.
The Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Center in Uncasville has the highest number of inmates who have tested positive for COVID-19 at 20. Seven staff members at Corrigan-Radgowski have also tested positive.
The offenders who were taken to Northern will remain there until they have been cleared by medical staff, officials said in the memo.
Those who were transferred to Northern Tuesday were taken in corrections transport vehicles wearing surgical masks, the memo said. The staff involved in the transport were issued N95 respirator masks which provide a higher degree of protection, officials said.
The transport vehicles wlll be sanitized and kept offline for 24 hours before being utilized again, officials said.
DOC officials said they were gathering information Tuesday on how many offenders have been taken to the hospital for COVID-19-related issues and if the agency had designated a centralized location to house those who were sick. No information was provided as of early Wednesday morning.