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Inmates at New York lockups who are over the age of 65 or “medically frail” can begin receiving the COVID-19 vaccine as of Friday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced — a day after he was served with a lawsuit for failing to include city jailbirds in the inoculation rollout.
Public defenders representing two men locked up on Rikers Island hit Cuomo and Health Commissioner Howard Zucker Thursday with class action suit filed on behalf of everyone being held at Big Apple lockups.
The lawsuit argued that excluding inmates is a violation of the 14th amendment’s equal protection clause.
It also argued that they are at higher risk because “they have no authority to require others in their housing units to wear masks, nor can they ensure that other people will maintain, at a minimum, six feet of distance.”
“We are vaccinating people in prisons on the same basis we are vaccinating people in the general public, people who are 65 plus and people who are medically frail in the prison system. It has started,” Cuomo said at an Albany press conference Friday.
Cuomo’s top aide Melissa DeRosa said there are more than one thousand inmates who are eligible to receive the vaccine due to their age or underlying conditions. She did not immediately specify what those conditions are.
“We announced yesterday that it started so as of today, we’re beginning to do that, DeRosa said. “It’s a universe of 1,075 people so it shouldn’t take very long, but yes it’s starting today.”
“We need some clarifications because some items on the list raise questions for the health professionals, and that’s what we’re working through,” Cuomo added.
Lawyers filed the suit in Bronx Supreme Court on behalf of 52-year-old Charles Holden who “shares eating spaces, toilets, sinks, showers, televisions, telephones and recreational spaces with dozens of other incarcerated men” in Rikers Island.
Alberto Frias, 24, sits “shoulder to shoulder with other incarcerated people while eating. No one wears a mask,” the document said.
The suit argued that correction and detention facilities should be included under “congregate living facilities” like homeless shelters and group homes, whose residents are already eligible for vaccinations under the current 1B phase.
Thirty-one state inmates and seven staff members have been killed by COVID-19 in New York, according to the DOCCS.
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