Juvenile Detention Center Workers Call For More Precautions

AP
May 07, 2020 - 2:49 pm

HARTFORD, Conn. (WTIC and AP) — Workers at Connecticut's juvenile detention centers are calling on state judicial officials to improve precautions against the coronavirus, after employees and offenders tested positive for the new virus.

Leaders of unions representing about 3,500 employees of the Judicial Branch, which runs the juvenile detention centers in Hartford and Bridgeport, said workers need N95 masks, and they urged officials to work with union leadership on plans to better protect workers, youths and the public.

As of April 24, 17 workers at the Hartford and Bridgeport detention centers and eight juvenile offenders had tested positive for the coronavirus, union leaders said in a statement Wednesday. None have died.

“Our staff are doing their best to assist the juvenile population in their care; however, staff and clients are fearful,” the statement said. “Response efforts from the Branch remain insufficient and far too delayed in order to protect staff and juveniles in its custody from avoidable illness or worse.”

Judicial Branch officials said Thursday that they talked with the unions on Tuesday and believed concerns about personal protective equipment had been addressed.

“We thought it was a good conversation,” said Cathy Foley Geib, deputy director of juvenile residential services. "Given the nature of this pandemic ... I think the Branch has been doing an incredible job of protecting staff and the youth.”

Foley Geib said surgical masks are available for all staff and youth, but higher-level N95 masks are in short supply worldwide and are reserved for when staff have to care for sick youths in isolated units.

She said none of the 14 youths at the Hartford detention center and none of the 29 at the Bridgeport facility are currently sick. All the youths who tested positive were in Hartford, she said.

Officials said numerous precautions are being taken at the detention centers, including maintaining social distancing when possible, having staff and youth wear masks at all times and wash their hands frequently, and taking workers' temperatures and asking them medical questions before each shift.

Authorities also have released 115 juveniles from the centers since March 1 and have barred new admissions to the Hartford facility since March 30.

As of Wednesday, nearly 31,000 state residents have tested positive for the coronavirus and more than 2,700 have died. Hospitalizations have decreased over the past two weeks, to nearly 1,500.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.

In other developments related to the coronavirus:

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UCONN SUED

The father of a University of Connecticut student alleges in a new lawsuit that the school's online learning programs put in place because of the coronavirus are inadequate and UConn should refund tuition and fees.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in federal court in Long Island, New York, seeks class action status to represent other UConn students who paid tuition and fees for this spring's semester, The Hartford Courant reported.

Similar lawsuits have been filed by students at more than 25 universities across the country.

Lenny Paris, of Plainview, New York, on Long Island, says in the lawsuit that UConn students paid for the full on-campus experience and education and the school hasn't been able to deliver that. He says UConn should provide a prorated refund of tuition and fees. There have been no in-person classes on campus since March 13.

UConn does not comment on pending litigation, a school spokeswoman said. But the school posted on its website that it would not make tuition and fee refunds because its educational programs were continuing online.

Students who live on campus are getting prorated credits for housing and dining fees.

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FOOD AID

The federal government has approved $95.5 million for Connecticut to provide food assistance for children in school meals programs, Gov. Ned Lamont announced Wednesday.

The benefits are through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, for children eligible for free and reduced-price meals at schools. The federal approval also gives the state an extra $26 million for a program expected to provide food benefits to about 270,000 children in the state who are not able to receive meals at school.

The Department of Social Services expects to issue about $46 million to 70,000 households eligible for SNAP and another $52 million to 80,000 households not eligible for SNAP. The department expects to deposit the benefit funds to families' accounts begging in mid-May.

All public schools have been closed since March 17 because of the pandemic, but many have continued to serve meals to students under a program aimed at ensuring children in low-income families do not go hungry.

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BOTTLE REDEMPTIONS

State officials are planning to allow retailers to resume redemption of bottle and cans on a limited basis beginning May 20, with a full resumption set to begin by June 3.

The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection allowed retailers on March 17 to temporarily suspend bottle and can redemption to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

When redemption partially resumes on May 20, officials say there likely will be a daily limit on the number of containers, limited hours to allow for cleaning and requirements for social distancing and wearing masks.

The state has suspended enforcement actions against retailers for not complying with Connecticut's “bottle bill" during the pandemic, but will resume enforcement on May 20.