More than two dozen inmates and correctional officers at an upstate correctional facility have contracted the coronavirus after prisoners were forced to clean up after COVID-19 patients without proper protective equipment, according to five inmates who came forward to The Post.
At least 16 inmates and 14 correctional officers at the Broome County Correctional Facility near Binghamton have been infected with the deadly pathogen, the inmates claim. All of the inmates The Post spoke with are in custody for non-violent offenses, according to records.
“I’m scared,” said Jadah Christopher, 28, who’s serving time for reckless endangerment and obstruction and has a heart murmur.
Christopher and the four other inmates who came forward to The Post say they’ve been forced to clean the medical unit housing positive patients, vacuum and sanitize areas holding quarantined inmates, clean food trays and dishes used by positive patients, and do their laundry.
“Only thing we got is one glove and the same paper mask,” Christopher said.
“If you refuse, they will put you in the box, which is a 23-hour lockdown, and take away your good time,” added Matthew Caletka, 32, referring to early release eligibility based on good behavior. Caletka is asthmatic and doing time for drug possession, according to records.
“I am worried about it because all it takes is getting sick,” Caletka said.
All of the inmates The Post spoke to said they were issued just a single paper mask — and told to wear it for weeks on end.
Both the Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration have repeatedly warned against reusing surgical-style paper masks, saying they should be discarded after one use.
Suzanne Willard, a nurse practitioner and the associate dean of Global Health at the Rutgers School of Nursing, said reusing paper face masks can be dangerous.
“The more you use something, the weaker the barrier is going to get,” said Willard, 69, whose specialty is treating HIV/AIDs patients.
“The integrity is not going to be able to hold up and it’s not going to be able to do their job.”
Broome County Executive Jason Garnar told WNBF Tuesday he believes the county’s apex is still two weeks away and pointed to the correctional facility as a hotspot, along with a Susquehanna nursing home.
There’s already been 167 cases in the county and eight deaths, records show.
The inmates said the facility has taken a sloppy approach to slowing the spread of the bug, which is contributing to the larger, community-wide outbreak.
When an inmate was recently found to have a 102-degree temperature, he was taken to the medical unit for just two days and was allowed back to a general area with correctional officers and other inmates before being sent to quarantine.
“It’s unreal,” Caletka said.
In addition, correctional officers, who have been using N95 respirators, are often seen without their masks, according to the inmates.
“They take it off because they say the pin is messing with their nose,” Christopher said, referring to the metal pin on the respirators that tightly adhere the mask to the wearer’s face.
The facility has previously come under fire after at least nine inmates died while receiving medical care since 2011, according to the Binghamton Press & Sun Bulletin.
The outlet said each of the deaths were investigated by the New York State Commission of Corrections and many ended in settled lawsuits.
“There’s no way we could like survive a chance in here,” said Michael Brown, 25, who’s diabetic and asthmatic and doing time for a burglary charge.
Governor Cuomo and the New York Department of Health were not immediately available for comment.
When the Broome County Executive was asked for comment on this story, they deferred to the county sheriff, who did not return two requests for comment.
Sheriff David Harder, who oversees the facility, previously told WBNG on April 1 the jail is one of the “safest places” from the virus.
Additional reporting by Bernadette Hogan