Updated: 10/30/20 – 12:40 P.M.
BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG) — Nearly 600 people at a state prison in Elmira tested positive for COVID-19 this month. The New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision said it is restricting movement within the facility.
Emily NaPier Singletary last heard from her husband, Derek Singletary, on Tuesday night. He is incarcerated at the Elmira Correctional Facility.
Singletary told her people are getting agitated. Last week, the New York Department of Corrections suspended visitations until further notice. Movement inside is limited.
“They feel like they’re sort of cut off from the outside world right now, which is scary when you’re in a situation like that,” NaPier Singletary said.
As of Wednesday, 590 people incarcerated at the prison tested positive for COVID-19, or a little less than 40 percent of the prison’s population of 1,518.
During a media briefing on Friday, Chemung County Executive Chris Moss said 45 staff members at the facility had also tested positive. DOCCS spokesperson Thomas Mailey previously said in a statement that the agency does not disclose the number of cases among staff by prison for safety and security reasons.*
According to Mailey, DOCCS is minimizing movement within the facility to avoid further spread. All meals are brought to individuals in their cells.
NaPier Singletary said she usually speaks to her husband during his daily recreational hour. She knew a lockdown was underway when she didn’t hear from him at that time last Friday.
He messaged her through the prison’s email system Saturday to reassure her he is okay. He said everyone incarcerated there is “locked down,” and he is filling the time watching college football.
NaPier Singletary said he was able to reach her by phone on Monday and Tuesday, but for only 15 minutes. Before the lockdown, he was able to use the phone for 30 minutes or more.
“Every time the phone rings from him it’s a huge relief, but I’m pretty on edge waiting for that call, and waiting to get another update about if he’s okay and what’s going on there,” NaPier Singletary said.
Mailey said people in the prison still have regular access to shared phones and tablets for messaging, which are cleaned after every use.
Over a thousand people at the facility were tested for the virus.
Singletary and the rest of his block were tested for COVID-19 last Monday, NaPier Singletary said, but prison staff never communicated their results.
“We just were left to assume that he was negative because they came and got one guy who was positive and moved him out of there, and left everybody else,” NaPier Singletary said.
According to Mailey, staff at the Elmira facility is informing all individuals of their results. He said anyone who is positive or showing symptoms of COVID-19 is immediately isolated.
Still, NaPier Singletary said she is worried her husband can still have the virus. Research shows the virus can go undetected for as long as 7 days after exposure.
“There’s still the chance that other guys on that block were exposed to it and it didn’t show up on their test,” NaPier Singletary said.
She also worries correctional officers moving in and out of the prison can bring another wave of infections. When she would visit Singletary, she used the same entrance used by staff. She said she saw many of the correctional officers not wearing masks, or wearing them improperly.
According to Mailey, the agency is monitoring mask compliance across its facilities. every day, he said senior staff in each prison walk through to check for proper mask-wearing.
Mailey said there are no longer any pending COVID-19 tests at Elmira. Commissioner Anthony Annucci said options for additional testing will be evaluated with the Department of Health.
He said they are testing all individuals who are quarantined as a result of contact tracing, but did not indicate how often.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the state may transfer certain incarcerated individuals who are elderly and immunocompromised to another prison facility. He said they are already taking precautions for members of the population who may be vulnerable.
*This story has been updated to include additional information about cases among staff at Elmira Correctional Facility.