Pa. Corrections officers make another plea to be prioritized for vaccines

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CAMP HILL, Pa. (WHTM) — Correction officers renewed their plea to the Governor and the Pennsylvania Department of Health to be prioritized for the vaccine on Wednesday.

This comes as more than 400 employees and inmates at SCI Camp Hill tested positive for the virus, according to officials.

Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association President John Eckenrode said more than 2,000 of the 11,000 employees that his organization represents have tested positive for the virus.

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“I think it’s time that we prioritize correction employees and give them the respect that they deserve,” Eckenrode said.

Corrections officers are in group 1B, the phase next in line to be vaccinated, but time is not on their side.

“If we’ve seen numbers like this in hospitals — or, you know, anywhere out in the public or outside, I don’t even think we’d be having this conversation right now. I think we would have got the vaccine when it first came out,” Eckenrode said.

Eckenrode sent us three email updates he received from SCI Camp Hill Staff last week. On Friday, there were 29 staff members and 30 inmates who tested positive for COVID-19. By Saturday evening, 30 staff members and 359 inmates had tested positive.

“In 5 days, it went form 30 — roughly 30 — to 400 plus,” Eckenrode said.

People are dying on both sides of the bars.

“These are death sentences,” said Jessica Lopez, who lives in Lancaster.

Lopez is an activist who has taken on the role of being a voice for inmates. She said she feels like it’s her duty since she knows what it’s like to be behind bars.

“When you enter the system, you are now a number, and they don’t care about those numbers,” Lopez said.

Inside prison walls, her friend’s husband contracted COVID-19 while wrapping up his sentence.

“He was 3-and-a-half years in, and he died from COVID,” Lopez said.

She said vaccinating officers will help, but that’s not enough.

“Are inmates a priority for getting the vaccine because they don’t have proper ventilation in their building, and then you’re bringing COs from the outside? You’re bringing in nurses from the outside,” Lopez said.

Which means prison employees are bringing outbreaks outside.

“When our shift is over, we’re going back to the community. We’re stopping at convenience stores and filling up our vehicles. We’re going home to the people we care about,” Eckenrode said.

abc27 reached out to the Health Department and the Governor’s office. A spokesperson for the governor said they are “eager to expand additional populations as soon as more vaccine is available.”

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