DOCCS drops ban on face masks for corrections officers

Dannemora Prison. Legislative Gazette file photo.

After calls from state leaders and corrections officers, the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision will no longer prohibit corrections officers from wearing personal protective equipment while on duty.

Corrections officers are not provided items like masks and gloves unless working with incarcerated individuals who have tested positive for the virus, or who are under quarantine due to possible exposure or suspected symptoms. Before the decision, officers were not allowed to bring their own equipment from home either.

On Wednesday, acting commissioner of DOCCS Anthony Annucci sent a letter to all DOCCS employees stating that the department will not oppose the use of N95 or surgical masks “to the extent staff already possesses these items and will not be reducing their availability to frontline healthcare workers.” They maintained their policy, as per CDC and Department of Health recommendations, that PPE would only be provided to officers by DOCCS when necessary.

The letter also announced that masks would be given to incarcerated individuals who have tested positive for the virus, as well as those who have been quarantined due to exposure or symptoms.

As of Monday, 56 officers in the state prison system have tested positive for COVID-19, as well as the president of the New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association (NYSCOPBA), Michael Powers. Twenty incarcerated people have also tested positive, according to DOCCS.

The decision to lift the ban came after Sen. Jen Metzger, D-Rosendale, Republican Committee Chairman Nick Langworthy, representatives from NYSCOPBA, and others called on DOCCS this week to permit corrections officers to use PPE, after hearing concerns from officers and their families.

DOCCS has taken other measures to mitigate spread of the virus inside their correctional and mental health facilities, including suspending visitation, transfers and intake from county facilities, enhancing cleaning protocols, distributing hand sanitizer and providing information about proper handwashing techniques.