In the last week, 150 people in Philadelphia jails have tested positive for COVID-19, a sudden surge that led the city to cancel all court appearances and send the entire system into total lockdown. It’s a similar story in Pennsylvania state prisons, where at least 2,300 prisoners have been diagnosed with the virus since the end of October, and at Philadelphia’s Federal Detention Center, where 242 detainees were infected during that same time frame. All those institutions have something else in common: They do not require staff to take COVID-19 tests — and, in the case of the city and federal facilities, do not even offer them.
That’s despite guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that any broad-based testing initiative should include staff as well as prisoners. “Because staff move between the facility and the community daily, the risks of introducing infection into the facility from the community and/or bringing infection from the facility back into the community is ongoing,” the CDC noted.
California, Massachusetts, Michigan, and North Carolina have all mandated staff testing for COVID-19 in some or all state prisons. Though groups including the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project, and Amistad Law Project have urged Pennsylvania to follow suit, Department of Corrections officials have so far declined.
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