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COVID Kills Staffer at Juvenile Center Where Youth Are Being Sent for Safety

The Crossroads Juvenile Center in Brownsville, Brooklyn.
The Crossroads Juvenile Center in Brownsville, Brooklyn, March 20, 2020.
Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

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A staff member who worked with youth at Brooklyn’s Crossroads Juvenile Center has died — a victim of COVID-19, her family said.

The Administration for Children’s Services has designated Crossroads as the juvenile justice system’s secure facility for young people who have not been infected with coronavirus Meanwhile, Horizon Juvenile Center in The Bronx is being used to detain those showing symptoms.

At least 13 staffers from the two centers have been hospitalized, and 23 have confirmed positive cases of the virus, Darek Robinson, a vice president for SSEU-Local 371, which represents some workers at the facilities, told THE CITY.

Community Associate Patricia George, who died last week, was a 25-year veteran of the agency, union officials said. George, 67, worked closely with children — and was “precious to residents for years,” said Robinson.

Despite her death and 18 known infections of workers at Crossroads, according to the union, ACS has already begun transferring 17 youths from Horizon there, as well as some staff members.

The teens’ removal to the Brownsville facility is meant to create an isolated environment at Horizon for any kids showing symptoms of the disease caused by the coronavirus, according to ACS.

By the end of March, three teens at Horizon had tested positive for coronavirus, and one remained symptomatic the first week of April, according to ACS.

That child was slated to stay behind at Horizon, on a floor designated for the sick. Also remaining at Horizon, on their own floor, were four healthy teens who had been charged as adults before juvenile justice reforms implemented in 2019, according to ACS.

ACS did not respond on Thursday to requests for updated information.

Staff are questioning the transfer plan, which will leave the 50-plus resident Crossroads a more dense environment as the virus spreads throughout the city.

“Bringing the number up, it is unrealistic that they can maintain a detention center with any distancing at all, it’s unrealistic,” said Robinson, who added that keeping discipline among the teens will be a growing challenge.

He said that children who had been in contact with George haven’t been tested for coronavirus.

“It puts the staff at risk as well as the residents at risk for spreading that virus more rapidly,” Robinson said. “Number one, how can they determine if kids have COVID-19 if they haven’t tested them?”

Temperature Checks

Chanel Caraway, an ACS spokesperson, noted that staff are allowed to wear face coverings and that residents’ temperatures are taken daily at Crossroads and Horizon.

“The health and safety of the youth and staff in our secure detention facilities continues to be our top priority,” Caraway said.

The Horizon Juvenile Center in the South Bronx. Jason Scott Jones/THE CITY

“We continue to follow guidance from the Department of Health regarding isolation for symptomatic youth, we continue to clean and sanitize all surfaces, implement social distancing strategies, and ensure that youth have access to medical staff at all times should they feel sick.”

Still, George’s death intensified worries for those still working at the juvenile facilities and parents of the kids there.

“We had staff working with COVID-19 positive residents and had no idea that the residents were COVID-19,” said Robinson.

He said a similar zone of silence greeted the first three employee infections last month. “They did absolutely nothing,” he said. “They didn’t warn the staff, they were saying that was because of HIPAA [medical privacy] laws.”

Donated Gear

On Tuesday, children’s rights organizations signed a letter calling on Mayor Bill de Blasio to “work with criminal justice partners to​ ​release as many young people as possible from confinement,” among other demands.

“I think it’s less about the building than it is about the precautions that they’re taking,” said Kate Rubin, director of policy for the nonprofit Youth Represent, which signed onto the letter.

“Are they cleaning the building? Are they keeping kids quarantined by halls, and are they quarantining staff who have been infected or in contact with someone who has been infected? That would be my bigger concern,” she said. “What protocols do you guys have in place to keep staff and kids safe?”

Last week, the union, along with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, donated masks to workers. Robinson said that, despite ACS assurances, cleaning staffers weren’t given protective gear until last Thursday. ACS did not address questions from THE CITY about equipment for workers.

“This is the crisis of the pandemic,” said Robinson. “I’m not faulting them for the pandemic. I’m faulting them for receiving the same information that the world is receiving, that New York is receiving, that New York City is receiving from the governor and the mayor and the commissioner, and not doing the proper precautions.”

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