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NY county jails respond to coronavirus with non-contact visits only

Officials say they are taking extra steps to protect corrections officers and the prison population from virus exposure

Mckenzie Delisle

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. — In response to the continued spread of novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, Clinton County Jail implemented a new visitation policy, allowing non-contact visits only.

“We’re making that effective right away,” County Sheriff David Favro told The Press-Republican on Tuesday. “We’re doing this to protect our in-house population.

It will be an inconvenience to family and members of the public visiting — and we apologize for that,” he continued.

“Hopefully they understand that we’re doing this for the best interest of the detainees and the facility overall.”

The change comes soon after the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision began a new visitor screening protocol.

Per a recent news release, as of Monday, March 9, upon arrival, visitors to those 52 statewide facilities were to be asked a series of questions regarding any recent illness or symptoms that they may be experiencing, as well as any recent travel outside of the United States and any exposure to confirmed coronavirus patients.

“The department remains committed to ensuring family and friends are able to visit with loved ones, with as limited disruption to the normal visiting process as possible, while also actively working to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in New York State,” the release says.

In a similar fashion, the county facility had started asking its visitors the same sort of precautionary questions.

“A lot of times, we get people that come up from NYC, Boston, Syracuse, Canada — we don’t know their full health history,” Favro told The Press-Republican.

And, he added, protecting the in-house population from contracting the virus was extremely important.

“Especially now with the bail reform,” Favro said of that legislation, which went into effect Jan. 1. “We’re not seeing people in and out; we used to book in 15 to 20 people over a weekend and, hours later, many of them were gone on bail.

We’re not going to jail on bail anymore. The people that we have here are here for a while.”

For those non-contact visits, guests would communicate via the facility’s visitation blocks.

“Those are with the Plexiglas between the inmate and the visitor and then you pick up the telephone and you can talk through it,” Favro explained. “So that we can wipe down the glass, the phone and the seat and everything after.”

As of right now, the sheriff added, he did not see the need to fully suspend visits.

“This makes it pretty safe,” he said. “They always have telephone conversations where they can call and speak to the inmate on the telephone as well, but at least this will give them a chance to see them and to let them know that everything is fine.

We’re going to continue to monitor the situation globally and locally.”

The sheriff said COVID-19 has presented other issues for the local officers, as well.

“We respond to a variety of complaints,” Favro said. “It could be auto accidents, where you may have infected people in the vehicles; it could be domestic complaints or other complaints in people’s homes, where those could have infected people.

There are a lot of times that our people may be exposed.”

To be careful in those instances, Favro said the county department has kept resources on hand.

“We are making sure that we have ample supply of personal protective equipment,” he said. “Things like face masks and latex gloves.”

All in all, the sheriff said, universal precautions, good judgement and common sense were of the utmost importance.

“That’s probably the best advice.”