As coronavirus hits New York, city jails let officers bring masks to work

At least 19 inmates,12 staff members had been diagnosed with coronavirus as of Saturday night, per NYC jail system

New York City correction officers are now allowed to bring their own masks to work as officials continue to grapple with the new coronavirus in a state that leads the nation in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases, a union spokesperson confirmed Monday.

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City Department of Correction Commissioner Cynthia Brann made the call in a memo to commanding officers, which was disseminated Sunday night, confirmed Correction Officers' Benevolent Association (COBA) spokesperson Michael Skelly.

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"Effective immediately, uniformed and non-uniformed staff are permitted to utilize their own personal protective equipment masks (N95 or surgical) during their tour of duty," the memo states, according to a copy obtained by FOX Business.

Rikers Island jail complex in New York, photographed on June 20, 2014. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

As of Monday afternoon, there were at least 35,530 confirmed COVID-19 cases nationwide, with at least 16,916 of those reported in New York.

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Convicted rapist Harvey Weinstein is in isolation at Wende Correctional Facility in Buffalo, New York shortly after testing positive for COVID-19. The diagnosis was made just days after Weinstein was moved to the state facility from Rikers Island.

The New York City jail system, which includes Rikers, reported at least 19 inmates and 12 staff members had been diagnosed with coronavirus as of Saturday night.

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COBA President Elias Husamadeen had long called for more masks, as well as gloves and hand sanitizers in city DOC facilities. Husamadeen told FOX Business on Monday he was "pleased that they are finally taking this long overdue step."

Weinstein at a New York City courthouse on Feb. 24(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

"Since day one of this crisis, COBA has fought vigorously for the DOC to make more protective masks available to every Correction," he said in the statement. "Now the City of New York must heed our calls to immediately establish a central testing facility on Rikers Island so that every NYC Correction Officer can get tested for COVID-19 before entering and leaving the city's jails."

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NYC DOC will only accept masks that were properly sized and fitted, that did not contain metal and that did not "impede the safety and security of any area within the department," the missive further states.

For those who would not, or could not, provide their own authorized equipment, the city department would be issuing N95 masks to inmates and staff who had certain assignments, such as to areas under quarantine and to the "mobilization of any individuals exhibiting symptoms" of the flu or COVID-19,  the memo states.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.