Union officials are calling on state Department of Correction Commissioner Rollin Cook to close the correctional officer training academy after documents show five instructors and 20 trainees recently became ill with symptoms associated with COVID-19.
Sean Howard, president of AFSCME Local 387, called on Cook Wednesday “to do the right thing” and close the academy which remained open even as the trainees were not allowed to move forward to training at various corrections facilities due to the threat of COVID-19.
“Every day they are sending the cadets to the academy and no one had their temperature checked,” Howard said. “They are spreading it back and forth. They could have infected 150 cadets and instructors.”
Wednesday, Howard was notified that five instructors and 20 trainees are sick with symptoms of COVID-19 which include fever, cough, difficulty breathing and other health issues.
DOC officials confirmed that four staff members assigned to the Maloney Center for Training and Staff Development have tested positive for COVID-19. But officials did not comment on the number of cadets or instructors who were out sick as of Wednesday.
“These individuals were sent home immediately after symptoms surfaced to protect all parties,” said Karen Martucci, spokeswoman for the DOC. “Positive results reported to the agency trigger contact tracing and appropriate notifications. All staff have the ability to use the 14-day COVID-19 leave when circumstances exist.”
Martucci did not comment on whether Cook is considering closing the academy.
According to emails exchanged by command staff at the academy, a lieutenant who tested positive for COVID-19 had close contact with 40 cadets, the director of the academy and several other supervisors who all ate lunch together and who were routinely in and out of each other’s offices.
Howard and Michael Tuthill, president of AFSCME Local 1565, contend that the cadets were not screened with temperature checks until about 10 days ago.
Correction officers and other employees entering any DOC correctional facility have been screened with temperature checks for the past month, Howard said.
“Temperature checks were initiated at each location as soon as equipment was secured and the necessary resources were in place,” Martucci said.
The cadets were about to be sent to various facilities for the last leg of their training, but were instead kept at the academy in Cheshire due to concerns for the spread of COVID-19, Tuthill and Howard said.
“In an abundance of caution, we made the decision to prolong the reporting data that each cadet would report to their assigned facilities to begin their on-the-job training,” Martucci said.
Howard and Tuthill said the class of roughly 150 recruits was sent home for two weeks after one cadet became ill and later tested positive for COVID-19 on March 27. But the union officials said the cadets were told to return to the academy before 14 days of self-quarantine were up because they were being paid.
“This is an epic fail,” Tuthill said.
Martucci had a different account of the situation. She said the cadets were only sent home for a few hours so the building could be deep cleaned. They returned the next day.
“The grounds of the training academy has given us the ability to separate the cadets into groups of five to eight with social distancing measures,” Martucci said.
“I’m asking for the closure of the academy and for these cadets to stay home for 14 days,” Howard said.
The cadets are not permanent state employees until they have graduated from the academy and worked through a six-month probationary period. They are not union members but the unions can advocate for their safety, Tuthill said.
Howard, Tuthill and other union officials who represent about 6,000 DOC employees