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Sheriff officials say vaccinated staff has reduced COVID at its correctional facilities

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Erie County Sheriff’s Department officials said the COVID-19 situation at both the Holding Center and the Correctional Facility is at a low level, after massive problems earlier in the pandemic.

Around 10% of the staff of the entire operation came down with COVID. There were also a lot of cases among inmates, possibly explaining why just about all correctional deputies have been vaccinated. Right now, there is believed to be up to six COVID cases at the Holding Center and one at Alden.

Undersheriff John Greenan said the department isn’t allowed to keep track of which staff members are vaccinated, but suppressing the virus is a priority.

"We made it a priority to try to convince people to get the vaccine because our belief and our concern all along was that one of the primary ways that COVID was getting into the jail when we did have more of an issue with it. It was coming in with staff," Greenan said. "So we really made it a priority to make sure they did get vaccinated."

"All the same precautions that we have had in place since the start of COVID remain. We continue to follow CDC guidelines and I continue to follow the recommendations of our Correctional Health," said Jail Management Division Superintendent Thomas Diina. "But, yeah, just because somebody’s vaccinated or even if I get everybody vaccinated, does not mean that we are going to take our masks off, start up contact visits and go back to pre-COVID operation."

Keeping cases out of the two facilities is also good for county finances.

"If we have one COVID-positive inmate in the facility, it stops all transfers of inmates to the state facilities," Greenan said. "So having inmates now divided between the two facilities is helping us, somewhat, from the perspective of us being able to get state-readies out of our custody."

It’s long been a financial issue, since Albany pays a lot less than the cost of keeping a state-ready prisoner in either facility awaiting transfer. On Tuesday, there were 130 state-ready prisoners in both places, some facing prison time and some being returned to prison for parole violations.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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