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Correctional officers union president has COVID-19; calls for further protection

The New York State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association today announced that Union President Michael B. Powers tested positive for COVID-19.

Powers, who is regularly in contact with correction officers from every corner of the state, has been self-quarantining at his home for the last several days. The news reaffirms the Union’s position that the State, including the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision and the New York State Office of Mental Health, must take immediate action to further prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus in our state correctional and mental health facilities.

The union is imploring the state to allow all employees working in correctional facilities, mental health facilities, parole offices and other agencies deemed essential, the ability to use the necessary personal protective equipment (PPEs) — specifically N95 masks, gloves and disposable smocks — to assist in preventing the spread. Currently in DOCCS, only those employees who work in isolated or quarantined units are provided PPEs. Continuing to prevent the staff from protecting themselves will not only jeopardize the staff, inmates and inmate-patients, but also raises the likelihood of the virus spreading beyond work sites.

“The dedicated members of NYSCOPBA are mandated to work on the front lines during the COVID-19 crisis. I am calling on the governor to make employee safety a priority and direct his state agencies to allow all staff members the ability to use basic personal protection equipment,” Powers said. “If the state cannot pay for it, then allow NYSCOPBA to help. Each day that our members are prohibited from wearing protective equipment, they are exposed to being infected and spreading the virus inside and outside of the facilities. We recognize and appreciate that some of our concerns have been addressed. However, further delays to our reasonable requests to protect staff must not continue. The members of NYSCOPBA must be afforded the ability to protect themselves. The use of PPEs to limit our members from exposure and infection makes sense. Too much time has already passed. Every day we are discovering more positive tests for COVID-19. The State must act now before it is too late, and we’re faced with a bigger crisis inside the state’s prison and mental health systems.”

NYSCOPBA is committed to working with the State to promote safe and healthy working conditions. If financial constraints are preventing the State from providing the life-saving equipment needed to protect its workforce, then NYSCOPBA is prepared to meet the needs of our members and provide the essential equipment.

NYSCOPBA has already made repeated requests to limit exposures. In letters dated March 9th and March 14th and sent to multiple state agencies, NYSCOPBA outlined their demands calling for several preventative measures to quell the spread of the virus. Initially, those demands were not met with the urgency that this situation requires. More recently though, DOCCS has been providing direction and addressing several of the issues raised by the Union – but there is certainly more that needs to be done. Conversely, OMH has not consistently communicated with the Union or taken the necessary precautions to protect the staff and patients in the mental health facilities. This is unacceptable and must be addressed.

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