A prison inmate in Connecticut this week hanged himself in his cell with a cloth mask that had been issued to him as part of an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, correction officials and the state’s chief medical examiner said.
The inmate, Daniel Ocasio, died on Wednesday after he was found at 5:07 a.m. with a ligature around his neck while he was sitting on a bunk at the Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Center in Uncasville, Conn., the state’s Department of Correction said.
The chief medical examiner, Dr. James Gill, ruled on Thursday that Mr. Ocasio’s death was a suicide.
Mr. Ocasio, 32, who lived in Windsor, Conn., had been held at the prison, in southeastern Connecticut, since Aug. 5 on an outstanding charge of third-degree burglary, prison officials said. He had been unable to post a $10,000 bond.
In Connecticut prisons, much like in other state and federal prisons, the virus has spread rapidly among inmates and correction officers. It has prompted new safety protocols for testing and mask-wearing.
But elsewhere, masks have in some instances become a flashpoint between civil rights groups, which say that inmates don’t have enough personal protective equipment, and prison guards, who say that masks could be used by inmates to harm themselves or others.
Mr. Ocasio’s death is being investigated by the Connecticut State Police. A spokesman for the agency said such an investigation was routine when an inmate dies in custody. The Department of Correction is also investigating.
A spokeswoman for the state prison system wrote in an email on Thursday that investigators would leave no stone unturned in their inquiry. She added that they would examine the cloth material that Mr. Ocasio used to make the ligature.
“With that being said, there are all sorts of authorized materials that could be used to self-harm,” the spokeswoman, Karen Martucci, wrote. “We are not going to have a knee-jerk reaction here.”
A public defender who represented Mr. Ocasio in a previous criminal case did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.
In Connecticut, more than 1,344 inmates out of the 9,596 inmates in the state’s prisons have contracted the coronavirus, and seven inmates have died, according to the Department of Correction. More than 386 corrections employees have been infected.
Inmates are required to wear masks when they exit their cells or cubicles, as well as when they enter a common area, said Ms. Martucci, who added that the state’s correctional facilities had provided an ample supply of masks.
In Alabama, a county jail in Huntsville has faced criticism for confiscating masks and barring inmates from wearing them, the local news website AL.com reported. A spokesman for the Madison County sheriff told the website that inmates could harm themselves or others with the metal nose pieces on masks, and that the masks could be tied together to make ropes.
The Coronavirus Outbreak ›
Frequently Asked Questions
Updated August 12, 2020
Can I travel within the United States?
- Many states have travel restrictions, and lots of them are taking active measures to enforce those restrictions, like issuing fines or asking visitors to quarantine for 14 days. Here’s an ever-updating list of statewide restrictions. In general, travel does increase your chance of getting and spreading the virus, as you are bound to encounter more people than if you remained at your house in your own “pod.” “Staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from Covid-19,” the C.D.C. says. If you do travel, though, take precautions. If you can, drive. If you have to fly, be careful about picking your airline. But know that airlines are taking real steps to keep planes clean and limit your risk.
I have antibodies. Am I now immune?
- As of right now, that seems likely, for at least several months. There have been frightening accounts of people suffering what seems to be a second bout of Covid-19. But experts say these patients may have a drawn-out course of infection, with the virus taking a slow toll weeks to months after initial exposure. People infected with the coronavirus typically produce immune molecules called antibodies, which are protective proteins made in response to an infection. These antibodies may last in the body only two to three months, which may seem worrisome, but that’s perfectly normal after an acute infection subsides, said Dr. Michael Mina, an immunologist at Harvard University. It may be possible to get the coronavirus again, but it’s highly unlikely that it would be possible in a short window of time from initial infection or make people sicker the second time.
I’m a small-business owner. Can I get relief?
- The stimulus bills enacted in March offer help for the millions of American small businesses. Those eligible for aid are businesses and nonprofit organizations with fewer than 500 workers, including sole proprietorships, independent contractors and freelancers. Some larger companies in some industries are also eligible. The help being offered, which is being managed by the Small Business Administration, includes the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program. But lots of folks have not yet seen payouts. Even those who have received help are confused: The rules are draconian, and some are stuck sitting on money they don’t know how to use. Many small-business owners are getting less than they expected or not hearing anything at all.
What are my rights if I am worried about going back to work?
What is school going to look like in September?
- It is unlikely that many schools will return to a normal schedule this fall, requiring the grind of online learning, makeshift child care and stunted workdays to continue. California’s two largest public school districts — Los Angeles and San Diego — said on July 13, that instruction will be remote-only in the fall, citing concerns that surging coronavirus infections in their areas pose too dire a risk for students and teachers. Together, the two districts enroll some 825,000 students. They are the largest in the country so far to abandon plans for even a partial physical return to classrooms when they reopen in August. For other districts, the solution won’t be an all-or-nothing approach. Many systems, including the nation’s largest, New York City, are devising hybrid plans that involve spending some days in classrooms and other days online. There’s no national policy on this yet, so check with your municipal school system regularly to see what is happening in your community.
“You give them face masks (with) a nose piece — metal pieces in them — they’re going to eat them,” the spokesman, Brent Patterson, told the site. “They’re going to swallow them.”
In Pittsburgh, the leader of a correction officers’ union was sent home in April after he refused to wear a mask with 17-inch strings attached to it, saying that the strings could be used to choke someone, the television station WTAE reported.