For the first time in the 19 years that Steven Wales has been a correction officer at Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Center, he says he is afraid to go home to his family.
"My biggest fear is giving it to them," said Wales, of his two young children. "They did not sign up for this."
Since March 26, 19 inmates and 10 staff members at Corrigan-Radgowski have tested positive for COVID-19. Wales, who is the union steward for Local 1565 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, says he does not believe the prison was prepared for the outbreak.
"We are not getting the equipment that is necessary to do our job," said Wales. "We just don't have it."
Wales said that all prison employees received cloth masks to wear. He said that he also wears gloves.
"Better than nothing, but better than nothing. That is all we have," said Wales.
According to Wales, access to equipment has improved over time. He said that officers who are working directly with inmates who have tested positive for COVID-19 now have access to an N95 respirator at Corrigan. Wales said that he believes all officers should have that kind of protection and that the prison should have had N95 respirators on hand before the threat of the pandemic.
"I think we were very reactive," said Wales.
The Department of Correction said that every facility has a supply of N95 and surgical masks with a policy associated with their use. According to Karen Martucci, director of external affairs for the DOC, all fourteen facilities have received two separate deliveries of surgical masks between March 17 and March 27. Martucci said that internal industry shops are making a third level of masks that have been distributed to the inmate population and all staff. They are also authorized to bring in their own mask for personal use.
"We are working diligently to ensure the safety of our employees and the population under our care and custody," said Martucci.
Wales said that he has been working 16-hour shifts because they are short on staff. In addition to the staff being stressed, Wales said that inmates are also impacted. To prevent the spread of COVID-19, Wales said that the general population inmates are only allowed out of their cells for 30 minutes a day.
"It is understandable because they are upset, they are scared," said Wales. "It is stressful."
On Wednesday, the Department of Correction announced that all COVID-19 positive inmates in Connecticut, with the exception of inmates at York, Garner, or Manson Youth facilities, will be transferred and treated at Northern Correctional Institution in Somers.
In a press release, the DOC said the decision is in line with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The DOC also believes that the centralization of patients will help preserve the state supply of PPE.
Wales said that moving the COVID-19 inmates to an isolation center is a step in the right direction, but he said that only inmates who have tested positive are being moved. Wales told NBC Connecticut that there are still inmates at Corrigan who are showing symptoms and are quarantined, but have not been tested yet. He said that he still has concerns about working conditions.
"I think we have got a long way to go," said Wales.
Full Statement from the DOC
Every facility has a supply of N95 and surgical masks with a policy associated with their use. Two separate deliveries were made to all fourteen facilities on 3/17 and 3/27 totally more than 17,000 surgical masks. In addition, our internal industry shops are making a third level of mask that have been distributed to the inmate population and all staff. In addition to the available personal protective equipment (PPE) at each location, the Commissioner has authorized staff to bring in their own mask for personal use. The centralization of patients at Northern Correctional will help preserve the state supply of PPE.
We are working diligently to ensure the safety our employees and the population under our care and custody.