Group calls for more COVID-19 testing in state’s prisons

COVID-19 in state prisons

ALBANY, N.Y. (WWNY) - North country prisons have been mostly spared from COVID-19 outbreaks.

But after a death, more than 100 positive cases, and outbreaks at two prisons in other parts of the state -- all within the past week -- one group says New York’s Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) is not doing enough testing.

“We are seven months into the pandemic and DOCCS has barely tested 60 percent of its population,” said Alexander Horwitz, executive director of New Yorkers United for Justice. “And we know the tests that are older than two weeks are essentially meaningless when it comes to actually tracking the spread.”

DOCCS says more than 24,000 inmates have been tested.

About 1,200 people have tested positive, 18 have died, and nearly 800 have recovered in New York’s prison system since March.

Gouverneur Correctional Facility is the only one in the north country to report positive cases -- two, who have both recovered.

There are some tests still pending at Riverview and Ogdensburg correctional facilities, but no cases have been reported.

With flu season beginning, New Yorkers United for Justice wants the state to start testing inmates every two weeks, test them for COVID antibodies, and release some people to make social distancing easier.

“COVID and flu have very similar symptoms,” Horwitz said. “The idea of mass confusion during flu season and a global pandemic is unconscionable.”

In a statement to 7 News, DOCCS says “The Department takes seriously its duty to ensure the safety and wellbeing of those that work and live in our correctional facilities.”

DOCCS says all inmates will have been tested by the end of November.

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