• Two other employees, neither of them exhibiting any signs, were made to undergo tests and the results were pending
  • The correctional facility houses as many as 1,300 inmates
  • One inmate said he hadn’t been informed about any contingency plans should someone tested positive

An employee at New York’s Sing Sing Correctional Facility tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday pending the results of two others. The New York City Department of Correction said the other two employees were asymptomatic but they were made to undergo the testing nonetheless.

Fear loomed among the inmates when the news broke out. "People are really worried," inmate Jermaine Archer told NBC News. "I was still in Sing Sing for 9/11, and I remember that, and people have the same looks on their faces when I walk by."

Sing Sing Correctional Facility accommodates as many as 1,300 inmates and Archer, who was serving 22 years to life for second-degree murder, said he wasn't informed about any contingency plans in case someone tested positive.

"It's more like concern and worry, like helplessness," he said. "What can we do with someone else's mercy? The biggest concern, again, is what is the contingency plan?"

The New York Corrections Department said it was complying with the health protocols and guidelines and was working to pinpoint the other individuals who possibly had come into contact with the infected person, according to the publication.

The concept of social distancing, the key health guideline aimed at containing the further spread of the disease, remained a distant dream for the thickly crowded prison settings.

"It's impossible, absolutely impossible, because right now there's no visitors, so we have to use the phones," Archer said. “You've got to wipe it down between every person. Guys have to use the kiosk machine to send out emails. Guys have to touch the trays in the mess halls to eat. Guys have to touch their cell bars. Guys have to hand their ID cards to staff."

It was only on Monday that Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva announced that his department has cut the prison population by over 600 since February to protect the inmates from a possible contraction. He said his officers would cite and release offenders in select circumstances, and seek medical clearance before booking the felony suspects and people who have committed violent crimes in future.

Inmates stage a protest on a rooftop of the San Vittore prison in Milan in one of Italy's COVID-19 quarantine red zones
A third detainee of the Cook County jail who tested COVID-19 positive died on Sunday, the sheriff's office confirmed. Inmates stage a protest on a rooftop of the San Vittore prison in Milan in one of Italy's COVID-19 quarantine red zones. AFP / Miguel MEDINA