Last week, the administration began testing all inmate and staff at three of Ohio’s hot spot prisons, which has raised concerns about how widespread the COVID-19 really is in Ohio.
As of yesterday, nearly 1,950 inmates and 154 staff at Marion Correctional have tested positive. At Pickaway Correctional, 67 staff and 1,163 inmates are infected with Coronavirus, with 51 staff and 102 inmates at Franklin Medical Center.
While testing will allow for contact tracing and for staff to isolate and quarantine, the bigger issue is that there is little staff relief and a shortage of PPE, especially of N-95 masks, in our public prisons. The union is also calling on more widespread testing throughout DR&C and ALL institutional agencies so that large outbreaks can be avoided at other institutions.
While a limited number of National Guard and Special Response Teams (SRT) are assisting the three institutions mentioned above, it’s still not enough to overcome staffing shortages, especially at Marion where they have been hit the hardest to date. “We’ve been calling for staffing assistance for weeks, but it’s still not preventing our members from being mandated over and over,” said OCSEA Pres. Chris Mabe. “It’s not enough,” he said.
To add insult to injury, staff who are returning to work who had tested positive are now having to do back-to-back, 16-hour shifts, which will further compromise their immune systems and health. On top of that, DR&C has now changed their Return to Work policy for those who test positive, saying they can return to work in 10 instead of 14 days.
The union has been critical of the shifting messages from agencies regarding Return to Work policies after employees test positive or have to quarantine. The implementation of the federal sick leave is also all over the map, with some agencies granting the full 80 hours and others, like the Ohio Dept. of Health, denying the benefit in full. DR&C and DYS employees are only allotted 40 hours of the federal sick leave and have been denied the expanded FMLA leave.
While the state unilaterally instituted hazard pay for Corrections, DYS, DODD, MH and Veteran’s Homes, they are still refusing to follow the contract on the $8 per hour emergency pay. The emergency pay grievance was denied by the state at Step Two and will eventually head to mediation.
It’s not yet known what the Governor means by opening Ohio up slowly beginning May 1, but, from the union’s view, essential employees—in prisons, in health care facilities, in many, many other public positions—continue to be at incredible risk. Just today, the governor has announced the death of an individual at Northwest Developmental Center in Toledo. “Not only did we need to flatten the curve for our hospital capacity, we must continue to do it for those who are putting themselves at risk day in and day out on the job who are depending on us to stay at home,” explained Mabe.