NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Rikers Island and other local jails have been hit especially hard by the coronavirus outbreak.

Last week, the Legal Aid Society reported the infection rate at local jails was seven times higher than the rest of the city and 87 times higher than the country.

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The group warned if the pandemic continued at that pace, the entire local jail population would be infected within a matter of weeks.

Now, officials say it’s not just inmates but correction officers who are in harm’s way.


Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams joined Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association President Elias Husamudeen to call for better protections.

The union president said more than 106 Department of Correction staff members and 160 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19, and more than 800 inmates are medically isolated.

“We talk about ensuring social distance. How do you do that inside a correctional facility? It is not possible,” said Adams, speaking through a mask. “The numbers are clearly indicating that we need to address this issue before it gets out of control, and it has reached almost the tipping point.”

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Husamudeen said the union had to step in and provide personal protective equipment for its officers.

“We’re at the epicenter of the epicenter,” he said. “We need help. We need gloves, we need masks.”

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He also claimed the complex has not been thoroughly cleaned.

“The New York City Department of Corrections hasn’t sent in anybody, the cells haven’t been cleaned, inside the jails, the housing areas,” he said. “A simple task force where it’s somebody’s job to ensure that – when a house is quarantined or medically isolated – that it’s somebody’s job to come in and simply sanitize the area.”

The union president demanded the city set up a task force and testing site on the island for officers. He said some are afraid to go home because they’re worried they’ll infect their families.

“Although the inmates can get tested, our correction officers can’t get tested on the facility,” said Adams. “That sends the wrong message.”

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Roughly 650 inmates have been released – either because they were at risk or their sentences were short – in order to reduce the jail population and slow the spread.