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Suffolk County corrections officer tests positive for COVID-19, sheriff says

A corrections officers at the Suffolk County Correctional

A corrections officers at the Suffolk County Correctional Facility in Riverhead has tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Suffolk sheriff. Credit: James Carbone

A Suffolk corrections officer — the county's first — tested positive for COVID-19, Sheriff Errol Toulon’s office said Saturday night.

The officer, who worked at the jail in Riverhead, has not been at the facility since March 14, according to a letter sent to the sheriff’s office staff signed by Toulon and Lou Viscusi, the president of the Suffolk County Corrections Officers Association. The officer, who is not identified in the letter, is recovering at home.

“The officer said he is feeling 75% to 80%,” Toulon said. “He’s doing much better.”

Correctional facilities are especially vulnerable to infectious diseases because inmates and staff members often share cramped spaces, public health officials have said.

Toulon and Viscusi said they learned Saturday evening that the officer had tested positive for the disease that has infected thousands across New York and the United States.

Toulon said the officer felt OK and was not symptomatic on March 14, his last shift at the Riverhead Correctional Facility, but began to feel ill the next day, his day off.

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Officers who had contact with the infected staff member were asked to self-quarantine for an appropriate period of time. The officer had limited contact with inmates and no inmates will require isolation, Toulon said. Inmates will continue to be closely monitored for signs and symptoms of illness.

A Nassau police officer tested positive for COVID-19 last week, becoming the county's first law-enforcement official to test positive for the disease. Officials said the officer was in self-isolation.

Toulon and Nassau County Sheriff James Dzundera said they had increased medical screenings, scrubbed buses and holding cells, and distributed hand sanitizer to prevent the coronavirus from spreading through their facilities and infecting staff and inmates.

The Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office, which operates jails in Riverhead and Yaphank that house about 670 inmates, has barred inmates from hugging or kissing family members and other visitors. Jails pose more health challenges than prisons, experts said, because their populations are fluid, with people constantly cycling in and out.

The letter said N95 masks would be issued to any staff members who wanted to wear one while on duty.

“If you feel any signs of illness, or if you believe you may have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for the coronavirus, we ask that you stay home to protect your colleagues and those in our custody,” the letter said. “We know this is a challenging time for all — for our staff and families — but we are here to fully support you through this crisis,” the letter from Toulon and Viscusi said.

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