A Michigan prison has emerged as a hotspot for coronavirus cases as it has a higher rate of infection compared to jail systems in New York and Chicago, both of which have garnered national attention as large sources of coronavirus outbreak.
Infection rates among prisons in the U.S.
According to a Detroit Free Press analysis of Department of corrections data, 10% of prisoners and 21% of staff at the Parnall Correctional Facility near Jackson have tested positive for COVID-19.
The percentage of the infected population in Parnall has surpassed the 7% infection rate at the Cook County jail in Chicago which was the largest known source of infections in the U.S., as described by the New York Times last week.
Moreover, according to the Legal Aid Society, Parnall's rate is also higher than that of Riker's Island and other New York City jails that have a collective infection rate of 8%. Both Chicago, and New York City's jail system has higher confirmed cases and more than twice the population in Parnall.
Dr. Josiah Rich professor of medicine and epidemiology at Brown University and the director of the Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights at The Miriam Hospital in Rhode Island said that the infection rate and high numbers of positive cases in Parnall could just be the tip of the iceberg.
The Department of Corrections spokesman, Chris Gautz said that the minimum-security prison Parnall has housed 1,641 prisoners and 4 of which have tested positive with the virus marking the first arrival of coronavirus at the facility on March 25. Now, there are already 63 prison staff infected and more than half of that are officers.
According to Gautz, Parnall is certainly has been hit the hardest. All the staff are doing their best to limit the further spread of the virus. However, it is very difficult to try and slow the spread in a set-up like the prison.
Half of the 29 prisons in Michigan have at least one confirmed case of COVID-19 garnering an overall infection rate of 1.2% among approximately 38,000 prisoners. 10% of the 454 confirmed cases were sent to community hospitals while eleven people have already died.
Meanwhile, positive cases among the staff have climbed to 175 or 1.4% of employees, 2 of which have died already.
More positive tests than negatives
Almost 2.3 million people are in prisons, jails, juvenile detention centers and other facilities across the U.S. More than half of them are locked up in state prisons as reported by the Prison Policy Initiative.
Advocates and health experts across the country said that jails and prisons are like "petri-dishes" in which COVID-19 could run rampant among an aging population that is most vulnerable to the infection.
In an essay published last month in New England Journal of Medicine, rich and two other infectious disease experts wrote that to fight the coronavirus, prisons and jails need to be considered as reservoirs that could lead to epidemic resurgence if it is not properly addressed.