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As Staffing Shortage On Rikers Island Remains Big Concern, Vaccine Deadline For NYC Correction Officers Expires

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- The vaccination deadline for workers with the Department of Correction has come and gone, making them the last city employees to be under a mandate.

But it comes as an ongoing staffing shortage has contributed to deaths and violence on Rikers Island, a situation some fear could get even worse, CBS2's Aundrea Cline-Thomas reported Tuesday.

From video messages to reminders on social media, and even a $500 incentive, Department of Correction staff had a month longer than other city agencies to be vaccinated by Tuesday's 5 p.m. deadline or be placed on leave without pay.

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In a statement, the correction officers union vowed legal action, saying, "To move forward with placing what little staff we do have on leave tomorrow would be like pouring gasoline on a fire."

A fire on Rikers Island, fueled by an unprecedented number correction officers calling out sick, ignited a months-long staffing crisis.

"I'm actually disappointed that it has taken this long to get correction officers vaccinated," said Alice Fontier of Neighborhood Defender Services Harlem. "It is incredibly dangerous."

As of Monday, 77% of the workforce had at least one shot.

The DOC said, as of Sunday, the seven-day positivity rate was 1.78% in city jails -- below the city's overall rate of 2.39%.

In anticipation of deepening staff concerns, Mayor Bill de Blasio issued an executive order moving correction officers to 12-hour shifts.

"When a correction officer doesn't come to work, people don't eat. People miss medical appointments. People are committing suicide. People are dying," said Brandon Holmes co-director of Freedom Agenda. "Now, this vaccine mandate, yes, can be a tool to make sure that they are held accountable."

The burden will be on the majority correction officers who do show up. What many sides fear is the situation on Rikers Island could become even more dangerous. The city has not indicated how it plans to get more officers back to work.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect the latest seven-day positivity rate in city jails.

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