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First Maryland correctional officer has died of coronavirus

A state prison correctional officer has died from the coronavirus, according to the AFSCME union.
A state prison correctional officer has died from the coronavirus, according to the AFSCME union. (Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun)

A female correctional officer at Baltimore’s Central Booking facility has become the first state corrections employee to die from the coronavirus, state and union officials said Monday.

A correctional officer in her 60s who worked for 20 years in the system died Monday, according to the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

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The woman’s death set off a round of criticism between the state and the union that represents correctional officers.

Patrick Moran, president of AFSCME Council 3, blamed Gov. Larry Hogan and his administration for the correctional officer’s death. In addition to the officer, eight inmates in the state’s prison system have died of the coronavirus.

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“They are continually putting our members and by extension the public at risk," Moran said in a statement. “To this day there are departments and institutions that still have not addressed many of the basics steps that need to happen in order for the state to successfully take on this pandemic and ensure the safety of state employees and those that they serve.”

Hogan’s office did not respond to questions about the officer’s death and Moran’s remarks. But Hogan spokesman Mike Ricci said in statement: “We extend our deepest condolences to the officer’s family and loved ones, and we are all grieving today for the loss of this dedicated public servant.”

But Gary McLhinney, deputy public safety secretary, took umbrage at Moran’s accusations.

“We’re mourning the loss of a coworker who was so incredibly well thought of in our system, and for Mr. Moran and the union leadership to try to score some political points by making completely false statements, really, it disgusts me,” McLhinney said. “We’re concentrating on our officer, our officer’s family, our officer’s coworkers and we are going to do everything we can to support them through our tragic period.”

The union has been pressing Hogan, a Republican, for more supplies of protective equipment such as masks and gloves for state workers. A pair of General Assembly committees plan to hold a hearing on the matter Tuesday.

Moran said in an interview that the state was slow to require and provide protective gear. As late as March 23 — more than two weeks after the first coronaviruses cases were confirmed in the state — correctional officers were not allowed to wear masks to work, according to a state memo. They were required starting April 4, a few days after the first prison-associated cases were confirmed.

“The sad truth is they knowingly and wantonly sent people into the workforce, into the prisons, while they knew the virus was active and spreading,” Moran said. “Now, sadly, one of our members has fallen as a result of their lack of concern or their lack of following proper health care protocols.”

The union also has pushed for the state to provide coronavirus testing to inmates and employees.

Hogan announced universal testing for prison inmates and workers on May 20, but by June 1, widespread testing had only been conducted at the Jessup Correctional Institution, with 1,120 inmates and 381 employees tested, according to data reported by the state. All other state prisons reported no more than a few dozen tests for inmates, and four institutions had not tested a single inmate.

Late Monday the state released new statistics showing that it has tested 3,364 staff members at all its facilities, with 488 testing positive. The numbers were released after the state and union confirmed the death of one guard, but they do not include that death.

The state also announced that 2,304 inmates system wide, with 296 testing positive.

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