Melanie Stengel / C-HIT photo
A testing site in New Haven (Melanie Stengel / C-HIT photo)

Four dozen correction employees were left waiting nearly two weeks for results of COVID-19 tests that were finally obtained through intervention by the commissioner. Meanwhile, an inmate who never tested positive was held in quarantine for a month with others who had been infected because of a series of exposures to fellow inmates with the coronavirus. 

The correction officers and clerical staff had been tested by the National Guard at a mobile site on May 1 at Carl Robinson Correctional Institution, according to union officials. Two employees tested positive and received their results. The others had been told to expect theirs in about five days. When the results didn’t arrive, the union started making calls and hit dead-ends at every juncture.

“We didn’t know where the results went,” said Collin Provost, president of AFSCME Local 391.

It wasn’t until union officials began sending emails to medical staff and human resources pointing out that no one was providing the results that Department of Correction Commissioner Rollin Cook stepped in, he said.

“He called me yesterday and asked what was going on,” Provost said. “He continued to follow up throughout the day until it was resolved. He gave me an apology and two people under him gave me an apology.”

The issue arose as Tasha Brown began questioning the testing and quarantining of her husband, Anthony G. Brown, Sr., who she says was moved without notice from Willard Cybulski Correctional Institution to quarantine at Cheshire Correctional Institution on April 13. Since then, she says he was repeatedly exposed to others who tested positive for COVID-19 although he tested negative three times. What’s worse, she says, is the flyer he mailed her indicating that inmates in quarantine have not been allowed to shower since May 1.

“For my husband to admit he’s scared, that’s something I’ve never heard from him before,” Tasha Brown said.

She asked Cheshire Warden Kenneth Butricks in an email why her husband has been held in quarantine for so long and why he had no access to a shower during the coronavirus pandemic even as health experts say cleanliness plays a role in halting the spread of COVID-19.

Butricks didn’t answer her question on why her husband was transferred to a quarantine unit with people who tested positive for the disease when he has repeatedly tested negative.

DOC Spokeswoman Karen Martucci told Brown in an email Wednesday that her husband was initially placed in quarantine because one of the people he was transferred with became symptomatic. “Unfortunately several of the inmates in our quarantine unit had their 14 day quarantine period reset due to possible exposure after a couple of inmates they transferred with became symptomatic,” Martucci said.

As to the showering issue, the warden said the agency was following guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “that speak to the increased risk for pathogen exposure and infection through aerosols.” “Knowing that showers, both hot and cold produce aerosols and droplets, our current policy substitutes showers for in-cell washing with a basin and appropriate hygiene supplies,” Butricks said.

Butricks didn’t respond to Brown’s request to be provided with the CDC guideline that states no showers in prisons should take place.

DOC spokesperson Karen Martucci provided CTNewsJunkie with the same answer when asked why inmates in quarantine were not allowed to shower. However, she conceded in an email to Brown that “the CDC does not speak to every scenario related to the care of a COVID-19 patient” and that the CDC language about “aerosols” formed “our policies related to showers within quarantine and medical isolation units.”

“Protecting people from COVID-19 in prisons and jails means increasing access to hygiene methods, not reducing access,” said Claudine Fox of the Connecticut American Civil Liberties Union. “The DOC’s policy of preventing people from showering is a punitive action, not a public health response. Preventing the spread of COVID-19 in prisons and jails should begin with releases to increase social distancing, not stopping people from bathing. Exporting a cruel policy from Northern’s COVID unit to other facilities is just doubling down on bad ideas.”

Tasha Brown said the entire handling of her husband’s quarantine left her wondering why he was put at risk for contracting the disease.

“When I saw that flyer he mailed me about no showers, it hit a spot in me and not in a good way,” she said.

Within the past 48 hours, Brown’s husband, Anthony, was returned to the general population at Cheshire, ending a month of quarantine.

Cook told correction staff in a memo sent Tuesday that all inmates and staff will be tested for COVID-19 with the roll-out of the initiative starting at the Osborne Correctional Institution this week.

The plan is to start with asymptomatic staff and then move on to inmates, Cook said. Up to this point, only those with symptoms for COVID-19 were tested at the state’s prisons, Cook said.

Provost was satisfied with Cook’s response and the plan moving forward to test staff at Hartford Hospital or Yale New Haven Hospital. There also will be mobile site testing at the prisons run by Hartford Healthcare, Provost said, and the results will be sent to each employee’s personal physician.

“This is why it’s so important to have the mobile sites have somebody in charge people are comfortable with and who are responsible for the results,” Provost said.

Osborne has had most inmates test positive for COVID-19 — 123, according to DOC data. Since mid-March, 367 staff members and 526 inmates have tested positive. Six inmates have died. The inmates who test positive are moved to the Northern Correctional Institution to be isolated until they have recovered enough to return to their original prison.