KEW GARDENS, QUEENS — A prosecutor in the Queens District Attorney's Office reported testing positive for the coronavirus on Tuesday, an agency spokesperson confirmed to Patch.
News of the positive test largely spread to other staffers through word of mouth rather than formal channels, alarming some who say they believed they may have been exposed to that person but weren't notified by the office, according to two defense lawyers who spoke to multiple staffers about the COVID-19 case.
"Everyone else heard by rumor and were like, 'Were you going to tell us?'" one of the lawyers told Patch.
According to the sources, who asked that their names not be used because they fear retaliation against them and the staffers who confided in them, the Queens District Attorney's Office hasn't been forthcoming when it comes to information about COVID-19 cases among its ranks, leaving some staffers nervous about their health and safety.
Included in their concerns: Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz, who tested positive for COVID-19 in March, not wearing a mask while among other staffers indoors.
"You couldn't pay me enough money to step inside, knowing what I know," said another defense lawyer, who has been working remotely.
A spokesperson for the Queens District Attorney's Office said that an email went out Tuesday to two bureaus that were affected by the COVID-19 case but said he did not have information on which bureaus were notified, a copy of the email to provide for this article, or information on how many people are self-quarantining as a result of the recent case.
"Members of the bureaus affected have been notified, and the employee and other staff who were exposed to the employee are quarantining," the spokesperson wrote in an emailed statement. "In addition, the City’s Tracing Program has been notified, and all areas have been cleaned."
The spokesperson said the Queens District Attorney's Office follows all health and safety protocols related to COVID-19. He declined to comment on the claims regarding Katz not wearing a mask, which include photos of her without a mask that have been posted on her own Twitter account.
"The DA's top priority is the safety of the people who work for her," the spokesperson said. "We have done everything that we needed to do to ensure that there is a safe workplace."
Our #DomesticViolence unit & the Family Justice Center hosted a great training session with @NYPDDV sergeants to encourage coordination in our mission to protect Queens residents.
If you need help, call QDA helpline 718-286-4410 or NYC hotline 800-621-HOPE, no matter the time. pic.twitter.com/Kyjk5UmKwv
— Queens DA Katz (@QueensDAKatz) September 18, 2020
Lucian Chalfen, a spokesperson for the New York Office of Court Administration, said the Queens District Attorney's Office did not notify them of the test result from Tuesday, but district attorneys are only required to disclose positive test results for employees who traveled through court buildings. One source told Patch that the staffer who tested positive worked in the DA's offices inside Queens Borough Hall, though the spokesperson could not confirm that.
Kew Gardens, where staffers with the Queens District Attorney work across four office locations, is among a number of coronavirus hotspots where the state has imposed new shutdowns to counter an increase in cases of the virus.
Meanwhile, some court proceedings in Kew Gardens are back in person, though several public defender organizations have argued resuming in-person proceedings endangers defendants and attorneys with pre-existing medical conditions.
Queens DA Katz and Chief EADA Jen Naiburg toured the criminal court house to survey health & safety protocols. As we move closer to the full re-opening of the courts, we remain committed to the pursuit of brave justice and a fairer, more equitable system for all Queens residents. pic.twitter.com/ANUr2EGKyk
— Queens DA Katz (@QueensDAKatz) August 11, 2020
The Queens prosecutor who tested positive Tuesday is not the first to contract the virus, sources told Patch, even though the Office of Court Administration's webpage alerting the public to COVID-19 cases among court personnel and visitors does not list any Queens prosecutors as having tested positive.
Another prosecutor tested positive for the virus in late September, the Queens DA's spokesperson confirmed, though he said the individual had not been to the office.
Some learned of that case from a video posted on the social media app Tik Tok and reviewed by Patch, in which the prosecutor mentioned having contracted COVID-19.
The lawyers who spoke to Patch said they wanted to come forward for the sake of staffers who are worried about their health but too afraid to speak out.
As one source put it, "They're angry that they're not being told what's really going on and that management's not looking out for their safety."