Update: Judge rules against union.
A federal judge today continues to ponder a request by state corrections officers to order Charlie Baker to let them continue working without getting a Covid-19 shot even after his Oct. 17 deadline for state workers to show proof of vaccination.
In a response to a query from US District Court Judge Timothy Hillman, a lawyer for the Massachusetts Correction Officers Federated Union writes today that at an Oct. 13 negotiating session between the union and Department of Correction, the department reported that 1,411 guards were unvaccinated - about 40% of the union membership.
Separately, a prison-rights group and three Harvard-affiliated immunology and public-health experts urged Hillman to order the guards to comply with Baker's vaccination demand because of the unique public-health issues in prisons - as a state judge did in a similar suit by state troopers.
In their amicus brief, Prisoners' Legal Services and doctors Yonatan Grad, Monik Jimenez and Amir Mohareb write that "congregate facilities like prison are particularly high-risk environments for COVID-19" and that the masks and social distancing preferred by the guards have limited usefulness when compared to vaccinations in reducing the spread of the virus and the severity of infections.
People who live and work in prisons are especially susceptible to the primary ways in which COVID-19 spreads. ... First, the virus spreads through inhalation of respiratory droplets expelled when an infected person exhales, talks, coughs or sneezes.2 Because this form of transmission is most likely to occur when someone is physically close to an infectious person, generally within about six feet, people who live and work prisons are more likely to contract the virus. Second, COVID-19 can spread through airborne transmission, where droplets containing the virus can remain suspended for hours. Such transmission is more likely to occur in enclosed spaces with poor ventilation like prisons.
They then discuss conditions in Massachusetts prisons in particular:
The plaintiffs suggest that the Department of Correction's current mitigation measures “have not proven to be unsuccessful” and that "robust enforcement of mask mandates and physical distancing rules, regular testing and symptom monitoring with prompt isolation and quarantine requirements for those who test positive, and regular and effective surface cleaning" "would serve equally well" as the vaccine requirement for staff members. While plaintiffs provide no evidence to support these claims, there is plenty of evidence to refute them.
To begin, mitigation alone has not prevented people in Massachusetts prisons from contracting and dying of COVID-19. Over the course of the pandemic, at least 21 people incarcerated in the Department of Correction have died of COVID-19 and at least 2,615 people incarcerated in the Department of Correction have contracted the virus. At least 954 correctional officers and staff have also contracted the virus.
What is more, there have always been, and continue to be, limits to the protections provided by non-vaccination measures. Even under the strictest enforcement regimes, masks must still be removed to eat and sleep. And even under a weekly testing regime of all staff - which does not appear to occur at the Department of Correction ... the virus can spread between tests.
Attorney's letter (1.6M PDF).
Amicus brief (168k PDF).