Update (1725ET): Harvey Weinstein has reportedly tested positive for COVID-19 as the number of cases in Rikers Island, where he was until recently being held, explodes.
The news comes courtesy of a local New Jersey newspaper, citing contacts in the state prison system. The report was later picked up by the New York Post.
Due to his advanced age and allegedly poor health, Weinstein would probably be considered a 'high risk' patient, though the US still has plenty of available beds.
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High-profile inmate Harvey Weinstein was transferred out of Rikers Island right as coronavirus cases have begun to explode at the infamous New York prison.
On Wednesday, the 68-year-old disgraced movie mogul was transferred to the maximum security Wende Correctional Facility near Buffalo, according to state prison officials. Weinstein was sentenced to 23-years for rape and sexual assault earlier this month. According to Global News, the prison is likely a temporary stop for Weinstein - where he will be evaluated to determine which state prison is most appropriate to meet his medical, mental health, security, and other needs.
Meanwhile, COVID-19 cases at Rikers jumped from eight to 38 - with 21 inmates, 12 employees and five correctional health workers now infected, according to the New York Times citing the Board of Correction.There are also 58 inmates under observation.
Their solution? Let people go.
Board officials said there were also 58 inmates being monitored in the contagious disease unit up from 27 people on Tuesday.
A person familiar with the matter said a previously closed jails facility had been reopened to accommodate the growing number of inmates being placed into quarantine.
Dr. Robert Cohen, a member of the Board of Correction, said, “The most important thing we can do right now is discharge all of the people who are old and have serious medical issues — those people are likely to die from a coronavirus infection.” -New York Times
On Thursday, the jail system's top doctor - Ross MacDonald - warned over Twitter "A storm is coming," and "we cannot change the fundamental nature of jail. We cannot socially distance dozens of elderly men living in a dorm, sharing a bathroom. Think of a cruise ship recklessly boarding more passengers each day."
A storm is coming and I know what I’ll be doing when it claims my first patient. What will you be doing? What will you have done? We have told you who is at risk. Please let as many out as you possibly can. end.— Ross MacDonald (@RossMacDonaldMD) March 19, 2020
MacDonald joins officials led by NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio who have been encouraging state courts and city district attorneys to release vulnerable inmates - or face a public health catastrophe.
As the Times notes, "Similar scenarios are playing out in jails and prisons throughout the state and across the country as correction staff members and inmates have tested positive for the virus. Two correction officers in upstate New York prisons, one correction officer in Westchester and an inmate in a Nassau County jail have been found to have the disease, as have two inmates in a federal prison in California."
"These are unprecedented times," said Queens district attorney, Melinda Katz. "We are doing this in a truncated period of time."
That said, New York City public defenders and officials say that process of letting inmates free has been held up by red tape - with questions over who can authorize their release, as well as concerns over public safety and where to send people once they're out.
"For everyone’s safety, this decision cannot be rushed," said de Blasio spokeswoman Freddi Goldstein. "We need to determine both public health risk and public safety risk."
Public defenders and advocates for inmates have called for sending home all inmates with pre-existing medical conditions, those over 50 and anyone jailed for a parole violation.
“It is a ticking time bomb,” said Justine Olderman, executive director of the Bronx Defenders. “We’re looking for bold action and leadership.”
On Saturday, the Board of Correction, the city agency that serves as a watchdog over the jails, said that the number of confirmed coronavirus cases at Rikers had jumped from eight to 38 — 21 detainees, 12 jail employees and five correctional health workers. -New York Times
"The most important thing we can do right now is discharge all of the people who are old and have serious medical issues — those people are likely to die from a coronavirus infection," said Dr. Robert Cohen - a member of the Board of Correction.
Read the rest of the report here.