Vulnerable Inmates Left in Prison as Covid Rages

Vulnerable Inmates Left in Prison as Covid Rages

A nurse told him it was “probably the flu,” and Mr. Heim was not seen by a doctor or tested for the coronavirus until Dec. 4. When Mr. Heim, who has chronic lung disease, was found to be infected and placed in isolation, he told staff he couldn’t breathe.

“They said there was nothing they could do for me,” he said in a declaration to the court. “The first four days I was in isolation, I laid there thinking I was going to die.” He remained there for 20 days, during which he was seen only three times by a physician, he said.

Isolation is critical to curbing the spread of infections, but almost a full year after the pandemic started, the prison did not have appropriate isolation quarters prepared for women who became infected.

In December, when dozens of women tested positive, they were housed in makeshift quarters in the prisons’ visiting rooms, according to the accounts of seven female inmates provided through written court declarations and phone interviews.

The rooms had no beds, only rudimentary restroom facilities, and no showers. (Temporary shower units were eventually installed.) The women were moved hastily; many said they did not have time to pack important items like medications, asthma inhalers and feminine hygiene products. Several said they were without their prescriptions for days.

On arrival, the infected women taken to the visiting room of the men’s prison, some of them visibly ill, were told to assemble metal cots to sleep on. Mattresses were not available at first, and bedding was scarce, according to numerous accounts. The room was cold, especially at night.

“I was freezing, actually, and they didn’t want to give us extra blankets,” said Stacy Spagnardi, 53, who was recently granted home confinement. She is serving a sentence for tax evasion and insurance fraud.

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