There are thousands of inmates on Rikers Island, and so far there have been no cases of COVID-19, the disease from the coronavirus family.

Still, officials are planning for a possible outbreak.

On Tuesday, before its oversight board, correction officials revealed some details about how they are preparing for the virus in city jails.

A 22-page pandemic plan, first reported by the website "THE CITY," leaked to the press. It describes how:

  • Inmates will be screened before they get to jail.
  • There could be possible excessive absences from staff members if an outbreak occurs.
  • If the inmate has flu-like symptoms, he or she will get a mask and be separated from other inmates.
  • Inmates who test positive for COVID-19 would be housed in a separate unit, the Communicable Disease Unit (CDU). Its capacity is 88.

"We are working around the clock to make sure we get this plan implemented," a Department of Correction official said.

Officials did not release the plan publicly. As soon as Wednesday, the Department of Correction was planning to start screening visitors to Rikers for fever. If they have flu-like conditions, they will be denied entry.

Mayor Bill de Blasio says Rikers Island detainees will be safe and secure.

"There is constant screening going on," the mayor said at a news conference. "Everyone new that comes in, if there is any health issue that we are concerned about in general, and specifically coronavirus, they are immediately taken to health care facilities within corrections. Everyone's been instructed if they see any symptoms to isolate the individual immediately."

Still, advocates wonder whether the department is equipped to handle an outbreak on Rikers.

"How are the people detained going to be engaging in those protective measures?" said Stanley Richards of the Board of Correction. "Being able to wash their hands, being able to have access to hot water to be able to do that?"

"We have to think about not only does the department have a plan for some of these critical steps, like screening, testing, appropriate isolation — not the overuse of isolation — the disruption of essential services, but do they have a system in place to ensure those plans are implemented with fidelity?" said Kayla Simpson of the Legal Aid Society's Prisoners' Rights Project. "Our concern is that they do not."

Of course, a lot of this is up in the air. We won't know if or when coronavirus will make its way into New York City jails.



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