New Research Suggests All Incarcerated People Should Be Tested For COVID-19, Regardless Of Symptoms

Published: Monday, August 31, 2020 - 7:37am
Updated: Monday, August 31, 2020 - 7:38am

New research on COVID-19 among incarcerated populations suggests mass testing should be implemented in all correctional facilities, regardless of symptoms reported by inmates.

Researchers reviewed mass testing events at 16 US jails and prisons around the country and found rates of COVID-19 were much higher than previously known.

Dr. Anne Spaulding, a coauthor of the research, is an Associate Professor of epidemiology and medicine at Emory University.

"You can't just let people without symptoms go without testing," Spaulding said incarcerated populations. "I think there was an idea that that could be a viable option five months ago, but the science has moved so far beyond that."

Spaulding said there are many reasons why inmates might not come forward to report symptoms. She says some jurisdictions still force inmates to pay medical copays, even during the pandemic. Spaulding says others might come forward because they fear being quarantined and the consequences that come with being separated in jail or prison.

Among the mass testing examples covered in the research, Spaulding says facilities with large, dormitory style housing units, like many Arizona state prisons, were found to have an increase in airborne infections.

"It is safer to have smaller rooms and not have everybody be in one large bay with bed after bed after bed,” Spaulding said. 

Arizona is currently implementing mass testing in all state prisons. More than 500 inmates at the Tucson prison recently tested positive after mass testing was conducted there.

Spaulding says wastewater testing is another way facilities like jails and prisons can get can monitor COVID-19 outbreaks among their populations.

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