Courtesy of the state of Connecticut
Manson Youth Institute (Courtesy of the state of Connecticut)

CHESHIRE, CT — Union officials representing state Department of Correction employees are asking the agency to quarantine a correction officer after he spent an eight-hour overtime shift guarding an inmate with COVID-19 and then went directly to work at Manson Youth Institution without changing his clothes. 

The correction officer, whose name has not been released, was initially told that he would be outside the room of an inmate being treated for COVID-19 at the University of Connecticut ward used for prisoners who need treatment, according to Sean Howard, president of AFSCME Local 387 representing correction officers and other DOC staff.

Instead, the correction officer who was wearing gloves, a paper gown and a mask, wound up in the room with the inmate helping him to get comfortable and take trips to the restroom, Howard said. “He wasn’t given a face shield or a Tyvek gown,” items that are issued to the specialized correction officer unit dealing with COVID-19 positive inmates, Howard said. “Even the nurse asked him where is your shield?”

The correction officer then left the hospital after an eight-hour overtime shift and went directly to Manson Youth Institution for his regular shift without changing his uniform or showering, Howard said.

“He was not told to quarantine and interacted with inmates and staff,” Howard said.

There are currently no cases at Manson Youth Institution.

“The administration will not have him get tested or send him home to be tested because he’s considered capable of going to work,” Howard added. “The members have called me from Manson, they haven’t had any cases there and he didn’t change his clothes before going there. Now panic is setting in.”

The unions representing thousands of DOC employees have been vocal is seeking better protections for its workers including more masks and other equipment as the coronavirus pandemic began blowing through the state’s prisons.

But DOC officials said that there was nothing unusual about the overtime shift. “The correctional officer that accepted an offer to work overtime at an outside hospital supervising a COVID-19 positive inmate was aware of the assignment details,” said Karen Martucci, executive director of communications for the DOC. “The officer was issued the appropriate personal protection equipment including a gown, gloves and a level one N95 mask.”

Martucci did not respond to questions about whether it was standard practice for employees who were dealing with COVID-19 positive inmates to show up at a different facility without changing. Martucci also did not respond to questions about why the employee hasn’t been tested.

As of Tuesday, 222 DOC staff members and 308 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19. One inmate has died. The agency is treating inmates who test positive for COVID-19 at Northern Correctional Institution. More than two dozen staff members who tested positive have returned to work while 170 inmates who had been transferred to isolation wards at Northern have returned to their original facilities.

Inmates who are housed at Manson Youth Institution, which is for males under the age of 21, Garner Correctional Institution which has mental health programming and York Correctional Institution, the state’s only prison for women, will receive treatment for COVID-19 at those facilities due to their specialized populations, DOC officials said.

So far no inmates at Mason, Garner or York have tested positive, according to DOC officials.

Any inmates who test positive at Manson will not be able to go to Northern because they must be kept separate from the adult prison population, according to Howard and Michael Tuthill who also represents hundreds of DOC employees as the president of AFSCME Local 1565.

“They are playing basketball and cards,” Tuthill said of inmates at Manson. “There is no social distancing. It will go through there like wildfire.”

Part of the issue with the overtime shift, according to union officials, was that the inmate who needed to be guarded at the hospital did not come from Manson. Administrators should have offered the shift to someone who worked at the prison where the inmate is normally housed, Howard and Tuthill said.

The other issue is that the recommended protocol for health care workers and first responders is to remove their clothing when they are finished working before entering their homes to reduce the risk of spreading the disease to family members. The same practice should be used when starting a new shift at a different prison after being exposed to someone with COVID-19, union officials contend.

“We want him quarantined until he is tested and we get the results back,” Howard said.