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Prisons Have Already Failed to Contain Covid-19. What Happens When the New Variants Arrive?

Vox: Aviva Stahl - January 30, 2021

The rapid spread of new variants of the coronavirus, some of which seem to be more contagious than older versions, has experts in the US calling for stricter social distancing and better masking to avoid yet another big surge of new Covid-19 cases and deaths.

Health advocates and epidemiologists are particularly concerned about what will happen once the new variants find their way into prisons, jails, and immigration detention facilities.

Across the US, at least one in five incarcerated individuals has already been infected with Covid-19, and a disproportionate number of them have died. One study found that the 2.3 million Americans living behind bars have twice the risk of dying from Covid-19 as a similar person who is not.

Jaimie Meyer is an associate professor at Yale School of Medicine and a researcher and clinician who specializes in the spread of infectious diseases behind bars. The pandemic “has laid bare [and] exposed the issues around conditions in confinement,” she told Vox, including how difficult or impossible it is to truly safeguard those held behind bars. In its quest to survive, Covid-19 will find “all of the holes [in our public health strategy] ... all of the weaknesses, and pressure test them” she added. “If facilities have not done something to keep people safe, a more highly transmissible strain will spread like wildfire.”

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