Pa. COs union to sue governor over mandatory COVID vaccinations

The Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association called the order "a slap in the face"


By Sarah Cassi
The Express-Times
        
HARRISBURG, Pa. — The union representing state prison corrections officers plans to sue Gov. Tom Wolf after he announced this week that some state employees would be required to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

On Tuesday, Wolf announced COVID-19 vaccines would be required by Sept. 7 for 25,000 workers in state-run health care and high-risk congregate care facilities. Those who are not vaccinated will face weekly COVID-19 testing.

The Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association on Thursday sent a letter to Wolf calling the mandate “a slap in the face – and, frankly, way too late because thousands of our members already have been infected, due to your inaction.”

On Tuesday, Gov. Tom Wolf announced COVID-19 vaccines would be required by Sept. 7 for 25,000 workers in state-run health care and high-risk congregate care facilities.
On Tuesday, Gov. Tom Wolf announced COVID-19 vaccines would be required by Sept. 7 for 25,000 workers in state-run health care and high-risk congregate care facilities. (AP photo)

“This is the latest episode of what has been a woefully inconsistent vaccination/testing/masking policy by this administration in our state prisons,” PSCOA President John Eckenrode wrote. “Your proposed testing plan is inconsistent and won’t increase safety because you don’t require other individuals, such as family members of inmates, contractors, vendors or volunteers to be tested.”

When the state had phased COVID vaccinations for high-risk populations, medical staff at the state prisons were in the first groups to be inoculated, but corrections officers and inmates were in a lower group.

The PSCOA lobbied for state and county jail employees to be bumped, raising the alarm after a Lehigh County Jail corrections officer from Upper Nazareth Township died from complications of COVID-19.

Gary Dean was 30 when he died, and he left behind two sons, ages 8 and 9.

“Employees were left on their own to get vaccinated. Thousands did just that – when they could find them. Vaccinations were finally made available by your administration two months later at the end of March. Unfortunately, during the winter surge of the virus, thousands of corrections employees were infected,” Eckenrode wrote.

The vaccine has been voluntary for staff and inmates. According to the state Department of Corrections, only 22.7% of staff at state prisons are fully vaccinated, compared to 86.9% of inmates. You can see the dashboard here.

As of Thursday, there were 35 active COVID cases among state corrections officers, with a total 4,816 positive guard cases during the pandemic.

State prison inmates have been hit harder, with 11,331 inmate positive cases and 141 inmate deaths during the pandemic. As of Thursday, there were 68 active inmates COVID cases.

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McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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