An incarcerated individual at Auburn Correctional Facility has died of COVID-19, the first virus-related death at the prison and the 21st incarcerated person to die in a state prison during the pandemic.
The state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision said that the incarcerated individual had tested positive for COVID-19 and was pronounced dead Sunday at Auburn Community Hospital. The official cause of the death will be determined by the Onondaga County Medical Examiner's Office, according to the department.
The death involving an incarcerated individual in Auburn is the third in the state prison system since Dec. 17. There were deaths among the incarcerated population at Clinton and Woodbourne correctional facilities.
A coalition of advocacy groups, including the Release Aging People in Prison Campaign, Parole Preparation Project and #HALTsolitary Campaign, urged the state to take emergency action to address the outbreaks and deaths in correctional facilities.
"More than a thousand incarcerated people have contracted the virus in just the last month. Three have tragically died in the last two weeks," the groups said. "In response, the governor suspended all visits from friends and family, but that won't stop the root of the COVID-19 problem in prisons: staff cycling in and out, the impossibility of social distancing and lack of effective (personal protective equipment)."
The groups added that Gov. Andrew Cuomo should grant "life-saving clemencies to vulnerable people and reduce the prison population right now." They also asked the state Legislature to pass COVID-19 reforms, including elder parole, to prevent more COVID deaths in prisons.
There has been a surge in COVID-19 cases throughout the state prison system. Auburn Correctional Facility has 31 confirmed cases among its incarcerated population, including 16 active cases. There are 24 pending tests.
It's unknown how many employees at the prison have tested positive for the virus. While DOCCS releases facility-level data for the incarcerated population, it does not release the same data for employees due to security concerns. The New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association, which represents corrections officers, said at one point that at least 179 officers at Auburn Correctional Facility either tested positive for the virus or were in quarantine.
In early December, DOCCS suspended visitation at Auburn and other correctional facilities, including Cayuga, due to COVID-19 outbreaks. A department spokesperson said Tuesday that visitation at all correctional facilities will be suspended beginning at 3 p.m. Wednesday.
DOCCS has also suspended the intake of individuals from county jails. The suspension, which took effect on Dec. 14, will be reviewed in mid-January.
The department has deployed rapid testing for staff and launched surveillance testing of asymptomatic incarcerated individuals.
"Every facet of the state's response to the COVID-19 outbreak has been guided by facts, scientific data and the guidance of public health experts at (the state Department of Health) and the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), and the work of DOCCS to protect the safety of New York's corrections staff and incarcerated population is no different," said Rachel Connors, a DOCCS spokesperson. "DOCCS is currently following all NYS DOH guidelines regarding congregate settings at each of its facilities."
Since the beginning of the pandemic, DOCCS has 2,957 employees, 2,945 incarcerated individuals and 168 parolees who have tested positive for COVID-19. There are 789 active cases among the incarcerated population.
As of Tuesday, there have been 31 COVID-19 deaths in the DOCCS system — 21 incarcerated individuals, six employees and four parolees.
Politics reporter Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.