Virginia Ligi started to feel really sick in the middle of her 16-hour shift in April as a corrections officer in Hartford, Connecticut. A week before, she had called her doctor because she was having trouble tasting and smelling, but he told her not to worry. Then she started to feel lightheaded and dizzy and had a hard time breathing. Her doctor sent her to get a nasal swab test for Covid-19 the same day, which came back positive. She spent the next three weeks in bed with vertigo, shortness of breath, muscle aches, migraine headaches, and vomiting. She struggled to keep her eyes open. “It was like nothing I’ve ever experienced in my life,” she said. “It was all day every day, all day long.”
Ligi is certain she got Covid-19 from her work. “In our job, to be honest with you, social distancing is nearly impossible,” she said. She works on a housing floor with up to 100 inmates, plus her fellow officers. “That six-foot rule is really not applicable in prison.” It’s impossible to open windows for better ventilation. The facility couldn’t secure enough cleaning supplies at first. On top of that, there was a shortage of masks, so instead of adequately protective N95 masks, she was given one surgical mask to last until whenever the next shipment arrived. Covid-19 cases had already started to crop up in the facility before she got sick. Plus, she doesn’t know where else she could have gotten it; nearly everything was shut down at that point.
“We were forced to go to work because we had to,” she said. “We had to go in harm’s way.”
In return for shouldering that risk, she assumed that she would be repaid. She filed a claim with her state workers’ compensation system, expecting that it would cover some of her pay for the time she was out from work and the medical care she received.
But she still hasn’t gotten any benefits. “I didn’t even get so much as a denial letter,” she said. “I got zero contact.”