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Mandated coronavirus testing of Connecticut prisoners and correction department staff underway

Hartford Courant 2020-07-30 22:33:44

The state Department of Correction has launched a second round of mass testing of staff and prisoners for the coronavirus.

Unlike an initial voluntary round, this time time testing is mandated, officials said Thursday.

Since this second phase began about two weeks ago, 2,538 staff members have been tested with only three asymptomatic positive results — a 0.1% positivity rate, state officials said. In all, 386 staff members have contracted the virus and 378 have recovered, according to a news release.

The second round of prisoner testing began July 23 at the Robinson Correctional Institution and has since moved on to the Osborn Correctional Institution. To date, a total of 834 prisoners were tested and 64 have been confirmed as asymptomatic positives, an 8% positivity rate. Those prisoners are being isolated and monitored, officials said.

The first round of testing of more than 9,500 offenders turned up 830 asymptomatic positive results. Only two prisoners who tested positive during the first round developed symptoms associated with the coronavirus and both have since recovered, state officials said.

Of about 9,700 prisoners, only one is recuperating from coronavirus related symptoms, the release sent Thursday said. The ultimate goal, state correction officials said, is to continue testing staff and offenders until none test positive for the virus.

The agency began mass testing of prisoners on May 13, starting with Osborn Correctional Institute in Somers, where 617 people were tested, resulting in 146 asymptomatic positive results. The facility was put on lockdown following the surge of positive results.

Many DOC employees and prisoners have said they feared COVID-19 was not under control in the state’s prisons and jails. Employees complained about a lack of masks and other personal protective gear and that social distancing rules were not being followed.

Correction officers also described medical staff limitations, haphazard hygiene procedures and confusion over COVID-19 tests and temperature checks in many facilities.

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In early June, the state and the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut announced the settlement of a lawsuit the civil rights organization filed in April to protect state prisoners from the coronavirus. The settlement required the state to follow procedures to reduce the risk of COVID-19 for all prisoners, which state officials said the correction department had already been doing.

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The ACLU sought widespread release of prisoners, but lawyers for the state argued that doing so would threaten public safety. The settlement did not require that prisoners be released, but did contain an agreement to continue mass testing along with other provisions.

Interim Correction Commissioner Angel Quiros praised staff members Thursday.

“I cannot say enough about the outstanding job that our health services and custody staff have done, and continue to do, during the pandemic,” Quiros said. “It is very reassuring to know that no matter what comes, they will handle it.”