MEDIA SCAN 2020 5 12

COCHS Weekly Update: May 12, 2020


COVID-19 Data Round-Up

CDC: COVID-19 in Correctional and Detention Facilities — United States, February–April 2020
To estimate the prevalence of COVID-19 in U.S. correctional and detention facilities, CDC requested aggregate surveillance data from 54 state and territorial health department jurisdictions. Thirty-seven (69%) jurisdictions provided aggregate surveillance data; 32 (86%) of those reported at least one laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 case among incarcerated or detained persons or staff members. In those 32 jurisdictions, 420 facilities reported 4,893 COVID-19 cases among incarcerated or detained persons and 2,778 cases among staff members. More than half (221; 53%) of the affected facilities reported cases only among staff members. Among COVID-19 cases in incarcerated or detained persons, 491 (10%) COVID-19–associated hospitalizations and 88 (2%) deaths were reported; among staff member cases, 79 (3%) hospitalizations and 15 (1%) deaths were reported. Among the 32 jurisdictions reporting cases, the median number of affected facilities was 10 (range = 1–59), the median number of cases in incarcerated or detained persons was 34 (range = 0–858), and the median number of cases in staff members was 26 (range = 1–756).

CDC: Public Health Response to COVID-19 Cases in Correctional and Detention Facilities — Louisiana, March–April 2020
During April 8–22, 2020, CDC and LDH conducted 24 CMAR (Supplementary Material, https://stacks.cdc.gov/view/cdc/87561) telephone-based assessments with health administrators and facility leadership (i.e., the sheriff or warden) including at 13 of 31 (42%) facilities with laboratory-confirmed cases in incarcerated or detained persons and 11 of 113 (10%) facilities without known cases in incarcerated or detained persons. The populations housed in these facilities included men and women, adults and juveniles, and ranged in size from 14 to >1,500 incarcerated and detained persons. Dormitory-style housing was reported in 92% of facilities with cases and 64% of facilities without cases. Nine of 13 facilities reporting cases and six of 11 facilities without cases in incarcerated or detained persons also reported cases among staff members.

UCLA Law: UCLA Covid-19 Behind Bars Data Project
In March 2020, in the face of the increasing danger posed by Covid-19 to people held in jails and prisons, the UCLA Prison Law and Policy Program launched the UCLA Covid-19 Behind Bars Data Project. The Project tracks Covid-19 conditions in jails and prisons and the efforts — both in and out of court — to decrease jail and prison populations and improve conditions to ensure the safety of residents and staff.

KEYT ABC: The Lompoc prison a potential reopening roadblock, frustrated SB County seeks answers from Bureau of Prisons
Santa Barbara County Public Health reported 311 new confirmed coronavirus cases Friday. Only one was from the community. The other 310, Public Health says, are current cases from the ongoing outbreak at the Federal Correctional Complex in Lompoc. The Federal Bureau of Prisons says the medium-security prison at the complex--known as the United States Penitentiary, Lompoc (USP)--does not have plans for universal testing at this time. Second District Supervisor Gregg Hart said Friday that Public Health has tried to assist the prison to manage the outbreak, only to be ""consistently rebuffed"" by prison authorities. The public is getting fewer answers, too. County Public Health says the Bureau of Prisons does not want the County to disclose how many local hospitalized patients are prison inmates or staff.

Texas Observer: Texas Health Officials Undercount COVID-19 Cases by Excluding Some Prisoners Who Tested Positive
Confirmed COVID-19 cases in state prisons are being excluded from the Texas health department tally with little explanation from government officials. The reported numbers significantly undercount cases in at least two East Texas counties where the number of positive prison cases have eclipsed the reported county totals severalfold. In Anderson County, COVID-19 cases in the Beto Unit, one of five state prisons in the county, spiked to over 200 in recent weeks, yet data from the state health department shows just 38 confirmed cases countywide.



COVID-19 Racial and Economic Disparities

The New England Journal of Medicine: Racial Health Disparities and Covid-19 — Caution and Context
Although Covid-19 is currently affecting a wide enough swath of the U.S. population, so that it is unlikelty in the near term to make the pandemic a ""racial"" issue, but in the future, the communities that are least able to buffer themselves against infection may find their ranks disproportionately represented in Covid-19 data, and the door may be opened to all-too-familiar mobilizations of racialized rhetoric.

Kaiser Family Fund: Low-Income and Communities of Color at Higher Risk of Serious Illness if Infected with Coronavirus
Emerging national and state-level data suggest that serious illness resulting from coronavirus disproportionately affects people in communities of color, due to the underlying health and economic challenges that they face. Similarly, adults with low incomes are more likely to have higher rates of chronic conditions compared to adults with high incomes, which could increase their risk of serious illness if infected with coronavirus.

California Health Care Foundation: Striving for Equity in COVID-19 Testing
California Health Care Foundation interviewed Dr. Georges C. Benjamin, longtime executive director of the American Public Health Association, which works to advance prevention, reduce health disparities, and promote wellness. Dr Benjamin states: ""We know that people with chronic conditions like diabetes, asthma, heart disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease get sicker and die earlier with COVID-19, and Black Americans tend to get a lot of those diseases at younger ages. So when we talked about people 65 years of age who have chronic diseases being more at risk, a lot of people misunderstood that to mean that if you are young, you don’t have to worry. For Black people, the truth is that even if you’re young, these chronic diseases seem to put you at extreme risk.""

The Washington Post: Disproportionately black counties account for over half of coronavirus cases in the U.S. and nearly 60% of deaths, study finds
Black people make up a disproportionate share of the population in 22 percent of U.S. counties, and those localities account for more than half of coronavirus cases and nearly 60 percent of deaths, a national study by an AIDS research group found. The study also found that socioeconomic factors such as employment status and access to health care were better predictors of infection and death rates than underlying health conditions. Gregorio Millett, vice president of Amfar, the Foundation for Aids Research, said the findings suggest that black people will be more vulnerable to the pandemic as states begin to reopen businesses and public spaces.

APM Reports: Coronavirus In The Delta
This limited-run podcast series follows people living through the Covid-19 pandemic in the Mississippi Delta, including nurses, doctors, blues musicians, prison inmates, pastors and athletes. Coronavirus in the Delta gives the perspective of rural America and shows how people in the region are experiencing and responding to an unprecedented moment.



COVID-19 Testing

VT Digger: Retesting challenges keep some inmates in ‘surge’ facility longer than expected
Al Cormier of the Vermont Department of Corrections has called some of the results of the retesting of inmates and staff to determine if they still have the coronavirus “bizarre.” “We’ve had a number of inmates that have been tested three times, we’re actually going on a fourth test for some of these guys,” Cormier said. “They’re testing positive, then they're testing negative, then they're positive again.”

AP News: Most women in 1 Louisiana prison dorm have COVID-19
Most of the woman in a Louisiana prison dormitory have tested positive for COVID-19, and three-quarters of the infected women showed no symptoms, state figures show. The dormitory is located at the Elayn Hunt Correctional Center in St. Gabriel. The women were sent to Hunt from an adjacent facility, the Louisiana Correctional Women’s Institute, which was flooded in 2016, forcing officials to send the women prisoners to facilities across the state. 39 women fell ill with the disease caused by the novel coronavirus so the rest of the women housed at Hunt — 155 who did not have symptoms — were also tested. Of those who did not have symptoms, 117 were infected.

The Hill: Nearly 800 inmates test positive for COVID-19 in California federal prison
There are almost 800 positive cases of coronavirus at the Federal Correctional Institution Lompoc in California as of this week. The California prison now accounts for 47 percent of confirmed coronavirus cases in the federal prison system. A make-shift military hospital has reportedly been set up to treat the prisoners.

Lexington Herald Leader: COVID-19 cases at federal prison grow to at least 69. Prison admits limited testing.
After days of silence, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons on Thursday said the Federal Medical Center in Lexington so far has only engaged in limited testing of inmates and none of employees despite a COVID-19 outbreak that has infected at least 69 people at the Leestown Road prison. Earlier this week, the city of Lexington and the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department expressed frustration that prison administrators had been unresponsive to their questions as the novel coronavirus rapidly spread through the prison.

News 4 Nashville: Over 1,200 staff, inmates test positive for COVID-19 at Trousdale Turner Correctional Center
More than 1,200 inmates and staff have tested positive for COVID-19 at Trousdale Turner Correctional Center, according to the Department of Correction. TDOC confirmed 1,246 COVID-19 positive cases out of 2,450 total tests at the correctional center in Trousdale County. These positive tests come after a targeted testing event at the facility that started on April 28.



COVID-19 Private Prisons

Los Angeles Times: The industry behind prisons profits, even during the coronavirus outbreak
As the coronavirus cripples the economy, leaving millions unemployed and many companies on life support, big businesses that have become synonymous with the world’s largest prison system are still making money. People in prison have been cut off from family visits for weeks, but they get charged up to $25 for a 15-minute phone call — plus a surcharge every time they add credit. They also pay marked-up prices at the commissary for soap so they can wash their hands more frequently. That service can carry a 100% processing fee.

The Marshall Project: Why Did It Take the Feds Weeks to Report COVID-19 Cases In Privately Run Prisons?
For the first time since coronavirus outbreaks began in federal prisons in March, the agency that oversees them is reporting the number of sick prisoners in 11 facilities run by private contractors. The bureau released the new numbers days after The Marshall Project asked the agency why the official tally did not include its privately run prisons, and more than a month since officials began reporting federal prison numbers. A one-page memo with the new numbers, posted on the agency’s website.

The Miami Herald: Florida prison operator with worst COVID-19 safety record is money tree for politicians
As Florida’s prison system fights to contain the COVID-19 outbreak, two facilities stand out ⁠for the wrong reasons: Blackwater River in the far reaches of the Panhandle, where six inmates have died of the disease, and South Bay Correctional Facility in Palm Beach County, where 39 staff members — more than any other compound — became infected. The two are among seven state prisons run by private contractors. Both Blackwater and South Bay are operated by Boca Raton-based GEO Group. GEO runs three other prisons in the state while CoreCivic and Management & Training Corporation (MTC) run one each.



COVID-19 Early Release of Incarcerated People

The Washington Post: The early release of incarcerated people may look like clemency. But it can endanger lives.
On the surface, the early release of incarcerated people may look like humanity, like clemency — at least for those inmates who have homes to go to. Look deeper, though, and the motivations become less clear and the consequences less benign. Research shows that formerly incarcerated people are almost 10 times more likely to be homeless than the general public, and predicts that “homeless individuals infected by COVID-19 would be twice as likely to be hospitalized, two to four times as likely to require critical care, and two to three times as likely to die than the general population.”

Public Policy Institute of California: California’s Jail Population Has Plummeted during COVID-19
When the COVID-19 crisis began, state and county governments recognized that overcrowded jail conditions could pose unacceptable health risks for inmates and staff. As the crisis has unfolded, all counties have taken steps to decrease their jail populations. To reduce their jail populations, many counties began admitting fewer people to jail and releasing some inmates early. From February 29—when the Board of State and Community Corrections began reporting additional data—to April 11, the statewide jail population had fallen by 19%, to about 58,000 inmates. However, two county jail systems (Kings and Los Angeles Counties) remained over capacity and six county systems were at least 85% of capacity, accounting for over 20,000 inmates in total.

KCAL: ‘Deeply Disturbing:’ LA County Jail Inmates Intentionally Trying To Contract Coronavirus
Inmates in Los Angeles County jails are deliberately attempting to infect themselves with coronavirus, L.A. Sheriff Alex Villanueva told reporters Monday, calling the activity “deeply disturbing” as the jail system saw a 60 percent jump in inmate cases in just one week. Surveillance video showed inmates trying to contract coronavirus by sharing bottles and masks, the sheriff disclosed. There is a mistaken belief that if inmates tested positive, it was a way to force the release more inmates out of the jail environment,



COVID-19 Correctional Environment Impact On Health

The Intercept: A Woman Died of Covid-19 in a New Jersey Prison After Begging To Be Let Out of a Locked Shower
Tiffany Mofield died on April 29 at the troubled Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women after begging to be let out of a locked shower, saying “she could not breathe,” a fellow incarcerated woman who witnessed her death told The Intercept. Mofield had spent about two weeks quarantined in an infirmary after becoming ill with symptoms consistent with Covid-19, but she was moved out even though she was clearly not better, as she was visibly short of breath and extremely lethargic.

Kaiser Health News: When Prisons Are ‘Petri Dishes,’ Inmates Can’t Guard Against COVID-19, They Say
The Indiana Department of Correction said it is taking measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus among the nearly 27,000 inmates housed in the state’s 18 adult and three juvenile facilities. But accounts from inmates and their relatives contradict the agency’s claims. Kaiser Health News and NPR have heard from dozens of people concerned about their family members in prison. Many inmates who exhibit COVID-19 symptoms have been left in crowded quarters, according to these complaints. Inmates don’t have hand sanitizer and were only recently issued face masks.

Urban Institute: How Can We Minimize Coronavirus Risk in Prisons and Jails?
Jails and prisons are ripe for rapid transmission of the coronavirus, putting residents, corrections staff, and the broader community at risk. In the latest in a series of podcast episodes on the pandemic, host Justin Milner talks to Brie Williams, physician and professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, Johnny Perez, director of the US Prisons Program for the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, and Urban Institute policy associate Bethany Young.