A Department of Correction staffer who tested positive for COVID-19 died on Sunday evening, one of seven deaths of coronavirus patients reported in New York state so far. The staffer also appears to be the first New York City employee with the disease to die.
“This person was an investigator and had limited contact with people in custody," DOC Commissioner Cynthia Brann said in a statement. "We are heartbroken and send our deepest condolences to our colleague’s family, loved ones, and co-workers. As we endure this loss to our community, we will continue to do everything to keep our facilities safe for everyone. Consistent with CDC and DOHMH guidance, anyone who was in close contact with this individual has been notified and appropriate precautions taken.”
It's not clear if the worker had underlying medical conditions, or what "limited contact with people in custody" means. The person's age and gender have not yet been released. The DOC has not responded to our questions seeking clarification.
Roughly 7,000 New Yorkers are held in the city's jails system at any given time. On March 12th, DOC said they had begun screening visitors, but a prohibition on hand sanitizer was still in effect. In contrast, the state's prison system announced on Saturday that they would be halting all non-legal visits for a month.
Due to uncleanliness and close quarters, jails and prisons are ideal places for viruses like COVID-19 to spread. On Monday, the The Legal Aid Society called for an immediate moratorium on arrests, and urged the city to immediately release "all New Yorkers held on parole violations or in pretrial detention."
"These facilities are literal breeding grounds for infectious disease such as COVID-19," said Tina Luongo, Attorney-in-Charge of the Criminal Defense Practice at The Legal Aid Society. "The continued incarceration of our clients during this health crisis could very well carry a death sentence.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio said Sunday that the Correction Department is taking necessary precautions to limit the spread of COVID-19 in city jails, but did not offer much in the way of detail.
"The folks in our jails are in our jails right now with a lot of specific precautions," de Blasio told reporters at a press conference late Sunday afternoon. "There's definitely distancing initiatives going on. Very careful checks on health care. We'll have more to say on that. That's one of the areas that's going to come up next on the agenda, but I'm very concerned about it."