A BOP Officer Contracted Coronavirus. He Was Told to Return to Work ASAP

Categories: BOP, The Insider, Coronavirus

Randy Hall was having dinner with his family on April 3 when he realized he couldn’t smell the food. That worried him – the loss of sense of smell is a telltale sign of COVID-19. As a correctional officer, he had been going to work every day at the Federal Correctional Institution, Milan, Mich., throughout the coronavirus outbreak. The state was on a lockdown, so he had no other contact outside the prison. It was possible he had contracted the virus even though he had none of the usual symptoms, like a fever or shortness of breath.

If he had it, he didn’t want to endanger his colleagues and inmates, so he called his office and asked to be tested. The request was denied. The Bureau of Prisons only tested inmates, not staff. They also didn’t recognize his symptom as a COVID-19 symptom. They wanted him to keep coming to work even though they didn’t give him or his colleagues any personal protective equipment.

The only way he could get a test was through his personal doctor. He decided to call in sick. He then called his family doctor and explained that he was a first responder, that he worked inside a prison, that he had come in contact with many people every day.

The doctor wrote a doctor’s order for him to take to the county COVID-19 test center. They gave him a test there and called the following day to report that he had indeed been infected.

When he called his office to report the result, though, they didn’t seem to worry about the virus. They told him to return to work if he was fever-free for 72 hours, which he was because he never had a fever. Then they told him to return to work seven days after he started feeling the symptoms, which was two days prior. Then they told him to return to work if there was any improvement at all. There was no 14-day quarantine as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Since BOP denied workers health and safety leave, Randy had to take sick leave and planned to file for workers’ compensation. Because of pressure from the AFGE Council of Prison Locals, however, the agency now allows paid emergency leave under a new COVID-19 response law.

His only symptom the entire time was the loss of sense of smell. But that doesn’t mean he couldn’t spread the virus. A lot of people who are non-symptomatic unknowingly spread the virus because they don’t even know they have it.

So far, 40 inmates and 50 staff members at FCI Milan have tested positive for coronavirus. Two inmates died. A month ago, one of Randy’s colleagues helped take care of an inmate who had to be transported from the prison to a hospital. The colleague was not given PPE – he had requested a mask but was denied. He sat in the ER with the inmate, who later tested positive and died. The colleague contracted the virus and ended up on a ventilator himself.

“With their procedures, they kind of intensified the outbreak inside the prison. One, we didn’t have PPE. Two, they didn’t recognize my symptoms as COVID-19 symptoms, so they wanted me to come to work,” said Randy, who is president of AFGE Local 1741.

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