Pa. union concerned about shortage of protective gear, NYC inmate transfers

Officials said staff at the U.S. Penitentiary at Canaan have about two weeks worth of PPE before they run out


By Joseph Kohut
The Times-Tribune

WAYNE COUNTY, Pa. — As the coronavirus continues to spread, staff at the U.S. Penitentiary at Canaan are working with a dwindling supply of personal protective gear that seems unlikely to last until a backlogged order for more arrives, according to the union representing correctional officers at the Wayne County prison.

“Dealing with something like this is unprecedented. Nothing like this has ever happened,” said Jeremy Dominick, the union’s president. “But, our union’s main concern is staff safety and the guidance from the central office is very vague. It’s open for interpretation for each individual institution.”

So far, there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 among the staff or the inmates at USP Canaan. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
So far, there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 among the staff or the inmates at USP Canaan. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

As the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 surged Friday in Pennsylvania to more than 2,200, Dominick said the staff have about two weeks worth of personal protective equipment, also called PPE, like gowns and masks, before they run out. Reorders are backlogged for several weeks because the items are in high demand everywhere, especially hospitals.

“We’re doing our best to keep our staff safe with what we have,” Dominick said.”It’s a scary situation for the staff and the inmates.”

Scott Taylor, a spokesman for the federal Bureau of Prisons, said all cleaning, sanitation and medical supplies have been inventoried at each of its 122 facilities and “an ample amount of supply is on hand and ready to be distributed or more to any facility as deemed necessary.”

“The Bureau of Prisons is prepared to address and supply concerns as necessary,” Taylor said in an email.

Dominick said he stands by his comments.

“We have limited amounts of PPE,” he said.

So far, there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 among the staff or the inmates at USP Canaan, Dominick said.

The union’s concerns come amid a nationwide crunch for protective gear used by medical personnel, emergency responders and law enforcement.

On March 20, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey sent a letter to the bureau’s director, Michael Carvajal, addressing safety concerns he has at federal prisons during the coronavirus pandemic.

Among his concerns is their supply of PPE. Casey said the bureau had not replied to his letter as of Friday.

Local federal prison union officials are also concerned by the intake of inmates from New York City, where confirmed coronavirus cases quickly approached 40,000 Friday.

Last week, the American Federation of Government Employees’ Council of Prison Locals C-33 released a statement that they would receive about 40 inmates from a federal facility in Brooklyn, New York. Most of the inmates would be held at USP Canaan.

The union said the transfer carries a risk of disease spread and could put the more than 400 employees and more than 1,300 other inmates at risk. Several inmates who came from New York were quarantined, Dominick said.

The bureau said previously that it may move inmates to better manage bed space and assure that facilities do not become overcrowded. If an inmate has no symptoms and a temperature of less than 100.4 degrees, that inmate can be transferred, according to the bureau.

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©2020 The Times-Tribune (Scranton, Pa.)

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