New York City Department of Correction: COVID19 Preparation & Action Plan
Section 1: Background and Local Impact
Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that can cause illnesses ranging from mild diseases, such as a cold, to more serious illnesses, such as pneumonia. Recently, a new coronavirus was detected that had not been previously seen in humans. The disease, called COVID-19, can be spread from person to person.
There is now widespread community transmission of COVID-19 in New York City, meaning the sources of new infections are unknown. Everyone in New York City should act as if they have been exposed to COVID-19. That means monitoring your health closely and staying home from work if you are sick.
New Yorkers who are not sick should also stay home as much as possible and avoid all unnecessary social interactions.
There are no vaccines or specific treatments available for COVID-19. However, medicine and vaccine research is underway.
Symptoms of COVID-19 commonly include fever, cough, sore throat or shortness of breath. Most people with COVID-19 have mild to moderate symptoms and fully recover without complications. Less commonly, COVID-19 may lead to pneumonia, hospitalization or death.
People who are at most risk for severe illness are older adults or those who have chronic health conditions, such as
- Lung disease
- Heart disease
- A weakened immune system
General Prevention Guidance
In general, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has issued the following guidance to help New Yorkers stay healthy:
- Stay home. All New Yorkers-healthy or sick-need to stay home. You should only leave your home for essential tasks, such as work (if you cannot work from home), getting groceries and supplies or essential medical care. Try to use delivery services when possible.
- Wash your hands with soap and water often, for at least 20 seconds every time, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Do not touch your face unless you recently washed your hands.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue or sleeve when sneezing or coughing. Do not use your hands.
- Do not shake hands. Instead, wave or elbow bump.
- If you are an older adult or have any of the chronic health conditions listed above, avoid all unnecessary gatherings and events.
- Avoid crowded spaces.
- Private employers should allow employees to work from home or stagger their work hours.
More information on NYC DOHMH guidance with regard to COVID19 can be found at: http://www.nyc.gov/coronavirus
Section 2: Action Plan
The Department is committed to protecting the health and safety of those living and working in our facilities. Since the outbreak began, we have been preparing our facilities and our staff to safely and effectively manage this extraordinary challenge. Working in conjunction with our medical service partner, Correctional Health Services (CHS), the Department has taken and will take the following steps to protect people in custody and our staff against coronavirus.
Understanding that there are many stakeholders with interest or questions about planning and preparation for COVID19 in city jails, the Department has taken number of steps to provide accurate and up-to-date public health information to the public, people in custody and staff.
- DOC and CHS leadership and staff presented their plans for COVID19 and responded to questions from board members at the March 10, 2020 Board of Correction public meeting
- DOC has conspicuously posted informational posters in facilities, visitor areas and court commands. These materials include advice on basic health guidance and precautions (e.g. cover your cough, wash your hands, refrain from touching your face, availability of flu shots)
- DOC is also displaying rotating PSA images on TVs in facilities, DOC headquarters, and on internal intranet.
- DOC is regularly communicating with the population in custody with guidance and relevant updates to protocols through inmate council meetings.
- In addition to basic precautions, staff have been repeatedly directed to:
- Stay home if they are feeling sick or meeting any of the high or medium risk categories as defined by the CDC. DOC has issued updated teletypes to all staff as guidance on risk categories has changed over time.
- Any uniformed staff member who shows up to work with a fever or new cough, sore throat or shortness of breath will be sent home. In addition to taking basic precautions, staff have repeatedly been provided the most up-to-date public health guidance via teletypes and other distribution methods regarding how to monitor for symptoms and what to do when ill.
- Report to the Health Management Division (HMD) if they have a confirmed case of COVID19 or confirmed exposure to someone with a confirmed case of COVID19
- DOC has been and will continue to update its website with regular information
Cleaning & Prevention
The Department is committed to robust sanitation protocols throughout its facilities and transportation vehicles, and has ramped up existing cleaning policies to combat the potential spread of the coronavirus. The Department has confirmed that its current sanitation formula is effective against the coronavirus. Preventative sanitation and cleaning protocols include:
- Cleaning and sanitizing all DOC housing units, dayrooms, and common spaces once per day
- Cleaning and sanitizing all contact surfaces and phones every two hours
- Cleaning all shower areas three times a day
- Cleaning and sanitizing all transport buses daily
- Any transport bus that is transporting a person who is symptomatic of a respiratory illness will be sanitized immediately after transporting that individual.
- DOC's environmental health unit is providing additional sanitation and sanitization training to all institutional aides and sanitation work details.
- Hand soap and cleaning supplies (including disinfectant, general cleaner, floor cleaner, and gentle scrub) are offered free of charge to people in custody
- Hand soap is allowed in each person's individual cell
- Every detainee has acess to their own bar of soap and we have left soap in every bathroom at every sink. Most detainees procure soap from the commissary, but Corcraft bar soap is available for every detainee if they need to replenish their supplies. The availablility of soap in the housing area, the presence of soap at every sink, and a listing of any detainee complaint are audited by area captains and documented three times during their 8 hour tours. In addition, the presence of cleaning supplies and the operability of all sinks is recorded. In addition our Environmental Health Unit and Bureau of Facility Operations are conducting audits in the facilities daily (including weekends) to ensure that all issues were abated.
- As a quality assurance measure, DOC has implemented a process for regularly inspecting housing areas to ensure cleaning and sanitation supplies are available as necessary. This includes:
- Rounding three times per tour (for a total of nine times per day) to ensure the availability of soap and that sinks are in working order
- Daily audits of the availability of these items in housing areas and high-trafficked areas (e.g. intakes) performed by DOC’s Quality Assurance and Integrity staff and staff from the Chief of Facility Operation’s office, who advise on any remediation needed
- DOC is also continuing its practice of tracking complaints submitted around any necessary sanitation issues, including the availability of soap and working sinks, and instituting remediation measure as necessary.
Screening & Health Care
- All persons are screened in accordance with latest health guidance before entering any facility.
- Correctional Health Services (CHS), a division of NYC Health + Hospitals, is independently responsible for a full range of health care to persons in the custody of DOC.
- DOC staff have been instructed to refer any person in custody who is exhibiting COVID19-like symptoms to CHS for evaluation
- In addition to its ongoing training for uniformed personnel on infectious and communicable disease precautions, DOC has also provided guidance to staff on how to spot COVID19 symptoms and make referrals to CHS as appropriate.
- CHS conducts medical screening of all individuals entering into DOC custody to identify health issues including signs and symptoms of COVID19
- Consistent with federal, state, and local guidelines, CHS screens patients at pre-arraignment and upon admission to the NYC jail system, to identify health issues and to recognize, isolate and monitor as appropriate individuals who may be at high risk of COVID19.
- Patients receive care and treatment from Correctional Health Services (CHS). As appropriate, patients may also receive care at acute care facilities within the NYC Health + Hospitals system, which is among the best equipped in the nation to provide the appropriate, safe care to those patients.
- We have reopened the Eric M. Taylor Center for new intakes showing symptoms and people in custody who have tested positive for COVID-19.
- Any employee, uniformed or non-uniformed, who shows up to work with any COVID-19 symptoms, as identified by the latest public health guidance, will be sent home and advised to see a medical professional.
- CHS will continue to coordinate closely with all partner agencies.
In line with NYC DOHMH guidance, the Department is taking a number of precautions to promote social distancing and reduce the risk of potential spread of the coronavirus in our facilities. These precautions include:
- Suspension of all in-person visit starting Wednesday, March 18, 2020
- The City is also taking additional measures to help detainees stay in contact with their families and communities, including increased access to phones and postage stamps
- For the first time, the City is also working to implement a televisit initiative that will allow people contacting detainees the convenience of using their own personal PC or mobile device to complete the teleconference
- Note: From March 13 to March 15 per State Commission of Correction guidance, DOC worked with contracted providers to screen all visitors for symptoms and risk factors of COVID19, include a nurse screen where appropriate
- Suspension of most in person court appearances, per order from the New York State Office of Court Administration
- DOC is utilizing existing infrastructure to ensure video appearances are available for those in our custody
- Where possible in dormitory housing units, DOC is ensuring there is an empty bed in between people in custody to increase space while sleeping
- As part of communication with the Inmate Council, DOC continues to promote social distancing among people in custody, including precautions like refraining from sitting on others’ beds where possible.
- DOC continues to evaluate how to provide programming and services in a safe manner while following social distancing guidelines, and will update this plan with changes to programming protocols as they develop. Programs staff are providing self-study, self-directed material to interested persons.
- Where possible, DOC is implementing telework and staggered scheduled for non-uniform employees with ability to follow these measures. In keeping with the Mayor’s and Governor’s order for all non-essential employees.