WASHINGTON, D.C.: A massive wave of coronavirus infections is blasting through the world’s largest prison population in the United States even as officials begin opening up their economies, saying the disease has plateaued.
One prison in Marion, Ohio has become the most intensely infected institution across the country with more than 80 percent of its nearly 2,500 inmates, and 175 staff on top of that, testing positive for the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).
Coronavirus deaths are on the increase in jails and penitentiaries across the country, with officials having few options — they are unable to force adequate distancing in crowded cells and facing shortages of medical personnel and personal protective gear everywhere.
The threat to the 2.3 million-strong US prison population was seen last week in the death of Andrea Circle Bear, a 30-year-old native American woman from South Dakota.
Pregnant when she was placed in a Texas federal prison in March on drug charges, she soon became sick with the disease and was placed on a ventilator, and gave birth by C-section.
She remained on the ventilator and died weeks later.
Riots over inadequate protection and slow responses by prison authorities have already taken place in prisons in Washington state and Kansas.
Covid-19 outbreaks among prison officers, meanwhile, have made the institutions even harder to manage.
At the understaffed, undersupplied Lansing Correctional Facility in Kansas on Thursday, 15-year prison guard David Carter resigned, saying it was better to go without pay than risk his health and that of his family.
“I can no longer be associated with a facility that is a ticking time bomb,” he said in a resignation letter.
The Marion prison outbreak is believed only the tip of the iceberg.
Because of the hodge-podge of prison management — federal, state, and local authorities have their own, and many are run by for-profit private companies — testing and reporting has been haphazard.
Covid Prison Data, a group of university criminal justice and data experts, says that based on public reports, 13,436 inmates and 5,312 corrections staff nationwide have tested positive for coronavirus.