Halfway house residents complain of lack of virus protection

BY Michael Hill, Correspondent |

Re-entry residents say a state Department of Corrections halfway house in Newark – Tully House – is ignoring CDC coronavirus guidelines and risking their lives by allegedly quarantining some who show symptoms but not doing much else to protect the general population. The residents spoke to NJTV News by phone but did not want their names used.

“There’s no social distancing in here, eight to 10 people in every room. The only time they try to practice social distancing is on camera, downstairs in the TV room or inside the mess hall,” one resident said.

He says residents complain of coronavirus symptoms but there’s no testing.

“They got a thermometer that they put over your forehead and if your temperature is high they say you got to go sit inside a room,” he said.

Another resident complains that plenty of residents do present symptoms but fear repercussions.

“Unfortunately, there’s either a fear of being sent back to prison if you do report the symptoms, or if you do report the symptoms they’re not taking them very seriously,” the resident said.

The residents say they don’t know if any of the 350 people are in fact COVID-19 positive, but they claim some have been quarantined.

Residents that NJTV News spoke to say Tully House seems to be taking care of its staff by offering them PPE, but not offering the same to residents.

“They got all staff walking around with masks and gloves. They don’t have no masks and gloves for the residents. Still got no hand sanitizer in hallways, we don’t got nothing,” the first resident said. “They don’t protect us, but they try and make sure that they’re OK, the staff. That’s it.”

“They have kitchen workers who are handling the food, they’re not being provided with masks. They’re turning beard guards into face masks, which are ineffective because they’re porous,” the other resident said.

GEO is the private sector subcontractor that operates Tully House. On its website, GEO has a long list of coronavirus steps it says it takes to prevent infection and protect staff and those in its care. But, residents say what’s practiced here contradicts the statement.

“What’s happened with people with elevated temperatures, in one case they took someone out, I guess they took him to the doctor, I’m not quite sure where they took him. But then they brought him back here in the same day and gave him a face mask and told him to wear the face mask around the building,” one of the residents said.

GEO referred NJTV News to the state Department of Corrections for comment. The DOC has said medical staff trained in infectious disease control determines testing in consultation with the state health department and scores of inmates are in quarantine.

The residents fear their concerns will be dismissed because they’re still in the system. But they say those scheduled to be released soon share the same concerns of health care workers.

“Imagine you’re now walking out the door and you have no idea if you just left this cesspool, this breeding ground, and you’re going home and now you’re giving it to someone who’s quarantined at home,” a resident said.