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New York City Leaders Urge Incoming Adams Administration To Address Rikers Island COVID Surge

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Local leaders are taking aim at Mayor Bill de Blasio and urging the incoming Adams administration to address the COVID surge on Rikers Island.

More than half of those incarcerated are unvaccinated, putting them at severe risk as the Omicron variant spreads, CBS2's Aundrea Cline-Thomas reported Thursday.

The Department of Correction has already sounded the alarm: if the COVID infection rate is surging across the city, it's soaring exponentially on Rikers.

The positivity rate has gone from 9.5% Monday to 17.4% Tuesday to 21.5% Wednesday.

"This mayor, even in the middle of this acute situation, has not shown the type of leadership and urgency that is needed," said Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.

Williams and other stakeholders are looking past de Blasio, who has a week left in office.

"What we're seeing so far with Omicron, intense surge but less impact. So that does not suggest doing things the way we did it last year," de Blasio said, bucking the concerns of his own Department of Correction commissioner, who sent a letter to judges and attorneys pleading for the release of some detainees awaiting trial.

Advocates echoed that request.

"Who are over 50, who are vulnerable, who do not need to be held awaiting trial are released now before they catch COVID and before they die," said City Council Member & Comptroller-elect Brad Lander.

Less than half of all detainees are fully vaccinated. That's why advocates are calling on Mayor-elect Eric Adams to tackle decades-old problems.

"We need new focus and new ideas to get us out of this problem," said Stan German, executive director of Neighborhood Defender Services.

Pressure from lawmakers and advocates motivated changes in the past. But the situation remains about life and death - and everyone's paying for it.

"Over $500,000 per year, per person that we incarcerate awaiting trial. Boy, if we can't save people's lives from COVID, something's wrong," said Lander.

The focus is not just on the next mayor. It's on the next City Council, too. New members said the changing of the guard will make Rikers a priority and the Department of Correction should expect more scrutiny and oversight.

In it's final report of 2021, the federal monitor overseeing the crisis outlined where the Adams administration should begin when attempting to overhaul the troubled jail complex. It called for improving security and staff accountability.

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