NYC Sees Jail ‘Crisis’ on Positive-Test Rates Over 17% at Rikers
(Bloomberg) -- Covid-19 test positivity rates at New York City’s Rikers Island correctional facility soared to over 17% on Tuesday, prompting the head of the city’s Department of Correction to ask the courts to help reduce the jail population amid the rapid spread of omicron.
Only 38% of incarcerated people are fully vaccinated, Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi said in a Dec. 21 letter sent to judges, public defenders and district attorneys.
“The combination of these data indicates that the risks to the human beings in our custody are at a crisis level,” the commissioner wrote. “All indications suggest that our jail population faces an equal or greater level of risk from COVID now as it did at the start of the pandemic.”
The Department of Correction also said on Wednesday that it was pausing all in-person visits beginning Dec. 22, reverting to video visits. Group events, such as religious services, have also been suspended.
New York City officials said that despite the spike in Covid cases in jails, the infections have so far not resulted in hospitalizations or deaths.
“Despite a major increase in infections, we have no hospitalizations,” said Mitchell Katz, who runs the city's public hospitals, during a Covid briefing on Wednesday.
Katz said the city has opened up additional units for incarcerated people who are infected to keep them isolated and limit the number of infections. He said the city is also working on increasing the vaccination rate among inmates and staff.
It’s the latest humanitarian crisis for the city's jail system. More than a dozen incarcerated people have died at Rikers Island this year as the jail has grappled with corrections officers who don't show up, violence and inhumane conditions. There have been calls to speed up the planned 2027 closure of the jail complex, but neither current Mayor Bill de Blasio nor Mayor-elect Eric Adams have committed to any change to that schedule.
In fiscal 2021, accounting for all costs, the city spent $556,539 per incarcerated person, or $1,525 per person per day, according to a recent report by the city comptroller. The annual cost has quadrupled since fiscal 2011, despite a significantly smaller jail population.
New York City’s Covid cases have increased more than six-fold in the last month. The seven-day average of residents who tested positive rose to 11.02% across the city on Monday. While hospitalizations and deaths are not rising at the same pace, the seven-day average hospitalization rate has risen above 2.21 per 100,000 people, rising above a key health threshold.
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