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COVID-19 Case Rates, Deaths Considerably Higher in Prisons

Case rate more than fivefold higher among prisoners versus U.S. population; death rate also higher

woman behind a prison bars

MONDAY, July 13, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- COVID-19 case rates are substantially higher in prisons than in the U.S. population and are escalating rapidly, according to a research letter published online July 8 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Brendan Saloner, Ph.D., from the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, and colleagues collected counts of COVID-19 cases and presumed or confirmed deaths among prisoners in state and federal prisons from March 31 to June 6, 2020.

The researchers noted 42,107 cases of COVID-19 and 510 deaths among 1,295,285 prisoners (case rate, 3,251 per 100,000 prisoners compared with 587 per 100,000 among the U.S. population). The crude COVID-19 death rate was 39 deaths per 100,000 prisoners compared with 29 deaths per 100,000 in the U.S. population. If the age and sex distributions of the U.S. and prison populations were equal, the adjusted death rate in the prison population was three times higher than expected. The COVID-19 case rate was initially lower in prisons, but on April 14, 2020, it surpassed that of the U.S. population. Mean daily case growth rates were 8.3 and 3.4 percent per day in prisons and in the U.S. population, respectively.

"Although some facilities did engage in efforts to control outbreaks, the findings suggest that overall, COVID-19 in U.S. prisons is unlikely to be contained without implementation of more effective infection control," the authors write.

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