An Open Letter To The Marion County Health Commissioner by Wayne Snitzky
(This essay was written April 25, 2020 during the height of the Covid-19 outbreak at Marion Correctional Institution.)
A couple of days ago my buddy saw the Marion County Health Commissioner on the news talking about the public health emergency that is the mass outbreak of coronavirus at the prison. This friend told me the commissioner talked about how inmates are the reason there is coronavirus in the county and went on to talk about how the officers have to work in this environment and take this infection home to their families. Well, that’s one way to look at it, I guess.
When I heard this, I was a little taken aback by the lack of vigorous scientific standards applied by a health commissioner. The tone, as expressed to me by my friend, was that us inmates somehow created this virus in a contraband lab we have in our cells. Or maybe a few of us secretly flew to Wuhan China for a weekend furlough. My high school science classes were a few years ago, but I remember the need to gather information as one of the vital parts of the scientific method. Let’s review a few facts, and a few rumors.
The only way for an inmate to get the infection is for a staff person to bring it in to him. Granted, once it was in here, it spread like wild fire. But it does not start in here. The question is: why does it spread so well in here? Obviously, being stacked up like cord wood, social distancing is out. But that covers why eighty plus percent of the inmates are infected. [If they do those antibody tests to the guys who are negative, I suspect the infection rate will be discovered to be near total, but that’s a guess.] Then how did so many guards come down with the infection? Here are a few things I’ve overheard.
One guard said he was told he had to continue to come into work until he got a positive test result, or he would be fired. One guard stayed home sick with all the symptoms for a week then the medical staff told him he was cleared to come back. One staff member was out sick for several days and was told she had to come back unless she had a positive result. When the infection was first taking hold here, staff was told that if they had symptoms, they should self-isolate at home for two weeks, unpaid. If and/or when they got a positive result, their two weeks off would be paid time off. Guess how many waited for the test, which wasn’t available for many weeks? But all that is just rumors we pick up from staff telling what could very well be tall tales. Here’s what I see with my own two eyes.
Almost no staff practice social distancing with us, or each other. Granted, the requirements of the job make that impossible in many situations. But it seems the staff take every opportunity to ignore distancing. Almost no staff keep a mask on. I watch as staff walk in the door, and pull down their mask, and talk to each other. When they are out in the hall, no masks, no distancing. And no good reason not to. The list goes on and on. Did they just infect each other, AND us? How many infections actually came from inmate to staff contact? I’m guessing the Health Commissioner hasn’t looked into any of this before speaking on the news. So before a scientist makes a claim about who is infecting whom, maybe gather a bit more info, like a scientist.
There is a way to test this hypothesis. There is a control group. On April 20th the Ohio National Guard came to Marion to support operations due to the high number of staff out sick. Each one of them has on a mask, eye protection, and gloves, at all times. Well, nearly at all times. In a week I saw only two instances when a guardsman was not fully protected. Both times were to eat and both times the mask was down for a shockingly brief window and only while alone at the officer’s desk. I wanted to let them know the dangers of eating so fast, but let it go. I didn’t want to get my infection too close to them. So to compare and contrast, it seems the guardsman might be a little more fastidious about personal protection than the front line staff. Maybe that will have something to do with their infection rate versus staff. Maybe. Time will tell. Granted, I don’t sit and stare at the workers here, but I see what I see. I’d hope a scientist would gather more info before jumping to conclusions.
To be fully honest, as I was writing this, the control group was ruined. It is lunch time and the guardsman working my block ate luch together, obviously masks down. Then an officer came in, mask down and talked to them, well within the six foot social distancing zone, for about five minutes. Dang it, now I need to find another control group.