COVID-19 skyrockets by nearly 2,000 cases in N.Y. state prisons over the last six weeks

Chelsia Rose Marcius, New York Daily News

Nearly 2,000 New York State prisoners have tested positive for COVID-19 in the last six weeks — exceeding the number of inmates who had the virus during the first eight months of the pandemic, new data from the Corrections Department shows.

Coronavirus continues to tear through state correctional facilities, with 1,993 prisoners testing positive since Dec. 1, according to data released Tuesday from the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.

That’s 182 more people than between March and December, when 1,811 people tested positive for the deadly disease, state data shows.

Ten people in state custody have died in the last three weeks, with one new death reported on Tuesday. Twenty-eight state prisoners have died since March.

More than 3,600 Corrections Department staffers and 171 state parolees have also contracted the virus, the data shows.

The state is currently in Phase 1a its COVID-19 vaccination rollout, targeting high-risk groups like hospital workers and nursing home staffers and residents. New York has started to roll out Phase 1b for some groups in that category.

The Corrections Department has tested the entire prison population for coronavirus, and asymptotic testing is also underway, agency spokesperson Thomas Mailey said. But it remains unclear when or if state inmates will be vaccinated.

“It’s terrifying. [We knew] the virus might come back with greater force. Now we’re experiencing that all over the country — and we’re experiencing that in the prison system,” said Jose Saldana, executive director of the Release Aging People in Prison Campaign.

“They should get the vaccine — but we also want the governor to grant clemencies to the most vulnerable to give them a chance to survive this pandemic wave, and stop the [state] Parole Board from perpetually denying people parole” he added. “We can’t give up. We have to keep beating the drums.”