Coronavirus News: Union wants COVID-19 testing site on Rikers Island, better safety protocols

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- As confirmed cases of COVID-19 rise on Rikers Island, there is a call for a testing facility on the island and a task fore to implement safety protocols.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and Correction Officers Benevolent Association President Elias Husamudeen called for swift action Tuesday to protect the health and safety of correction officers and everyone in the city's jails, including medical staff, civilians, and inmates.

More than 160 inmates and more than 100 Department of Correction staff have tested positive for coronavirus so far.

"5,400 people in jail for murder and rape and robbery and assault to run around the street and to jeopardize the safety of New York," Husamudeen said. "That's not the answer."

He says the tipping point has arrived, with Adams and union officials blasting the DOC commissioner and the mayor.

There is a staff of about 10,000 at Rikers, but the union says the city hasn't provided any personal protective equipment.

"Social distance, how do we do that inside a correctional facility?" Adams said. "It is not possible."

They're asking the mayor to open a testing site on Rikers Island, as they say many officers aren't going home to protect their families.

More than 800 inmates have been quarantined.

"As of the end of yesterday, 900 inmates released from jail system," Mayor Bill de Blasio said. "There will be more ahead."

But Adams says that isn't the answer.

"We do not want to move our city from a health crisis to a public safety crisis," he said.

DOC officials over the past few weeks have said cleaning and sanitizing has ramped up inside the jail, including housing units, common spaces, phones, showers, and transport buses.

All persons entering are being screened, and all in person visits have been suspended.

"The health and well-being of our personnel and people in custody is of paramount importance," the DOC said in a statement. "The department is working in coordination with the NYC Department of Health and Correctional Health Services to identify and evaluate detainees with potential symptoms and refer them for testing as necessary."

Still, union officials want to see more.

"The NYPD already sent in people to clean the cells where the police officers work," Husamudeen said. "Guess what? The New York City Department of Corrections hasn't sent in anybody."

Meanwhile, the city's five district attorneys sent a letter to the mayor and the correction commissioner slamming them for the release of violent inmates.

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