COVID Case Watch October 28th, 2020

This graph shows confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 per 1,000 individuals in the prison and general populations in each state as of October 28, 2020. The left side (orange) refers to the prison population and the right side (blue) refers to the general population. 

The rate of COVID in the general population is 26.61 per 1,000 individuals. In the prison population (in state prisons), the rate is 113.35 per 1,000 individuals. This means that, on average, the rate of COVID infections in prison populations is 4.26 times the rate of COVID infections in the general population. Arkansas, Kansas, and Vermont continue to have a prison infection rate that is over 10 times that of the general population. 

Despite a surge of COVID cases in the general population this month, in 45 of the 50 US states, the rate of COVID infections among those imprisoned exceeds the rate of COVID infections among the general population. As cases have risen in the Midwest, the general population of Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin have seen an increase in case rates of 4.9-7.9 per 1,000 in the past week. However, the case rates in Midwestern prisons have increased much more. Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin prisons have seen an increase in case rates in the past week of 54 per 1,000, 16 per 1,000, 302 per 1,000, and 38 per 1,000, respectively. 

Importantly, states have varying testing strategies within prisons and for their general population, indicating that these rates likely reflect a falsely low disease incidence with some states’ rates being more accurate than others.

COVID Case Watch October 21, 2020

This graph shows confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 per 1,000 individuals in the prison and general populations in each state as of October 21, 2020. The left side (orange) refers to the prison population and the right side (blue) refers to the general population. 

The rate of COVID in the general population is 25.06 per 1,000 individuals. In the prison population, the rate is 106.84 per 1,000 individuals. This means that, on average, the rate of COVID infections in prison populations is 4.26 times the rate of COVID infections in the general population. Arkansas, Kansas, and Vermont continue to have a prison infection rate that is over 10 times that of the general population. In 42 of the 50 US states, the rate of COVID infections among those imprisoned exceeds the rate of COVID infections among the general population.

Importantly, states have varying testing strategies within prisons and for their general population, indicating that these rates likely reflect a falsely low disease incidence with some states’ rates being more accurate than others.

COVID Case Watch October 14-15, 2020

This graph shows confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 per 1,000 individuals in the prison and general populations in each state as of October 14 and 15, 2020.* The left side (orange) refers to the prison population and the right side (blue) refers to the general population. 

The rate of COVID in the general population is 23.81 per 1,000 individuals. In the prison population, the rate is 103.49 per 1,000 individuals. This means that, on average, the rate of COVID infections in prison populations is 4.35 times the rate of COVID infections in the general population. Arkansas, Kansas, and Vermont have a prison infection rate that is over 10 times that of the general population. In 41 of the 50 US states, the rate of COVID infections among those imprisoned exceeds the rate of COVID infections among the general population.

Importantly, states have varying testing strategies within prisons and for their general population, indicating that these rates likely reflect a falsely low disease incidence with some states’ rates being more accurate than others.

*Based on when data is updated, general population data is from October 14th and state prison data is from both October 14th and October 15th

COVID Case Watch September 30, 2020

This graph shows confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 per 1,000 individuals in the prison and general populations in each state as of September 30, 2020. The left side (orange) refers to the prison population and the right side (blue) refers to the general population. 

The rate of COVID in the general population is 21.78 per 1,000 individuals. In the prison population, the rate is 96.11 per 1,000 individuals. This means that, on average, the rate of COVID infections in prison populations is 4.41 times the rate of COVID infections in the general population. Arkansas, Kansas, Michigan, and Vermont all have a prison infection rate that is over 10 times that of the general population. In 40 of the 50 US states, the rate of COVID infections among those imprisoned exceeds the rate of COVID infections among the general population.

Since these rates were last calculated by our team on August 19th, the general population has experienced an increase in cases of 5.23 per 1,000 population whereas the prison population has experienced an increase in cases of 26.11 cases per 1,000 population. 

Importantly, states have varying testing strategies within prisons and for their general population, indicating that these rates likely reflect a falsely low disease incidence with some states’ rates being more accurate than others.

COVID-19 Tests per 1,000

In the last week, Wyoming has begun reporting testing information within prisons. Of the 41 states reporting testing information, 21, including Wyoming have administered more than 500 COVID tests per 1,000 inmates. Eight states have administered more than one test per inmate with Minnesota administering over three tests per inmate. Multiple prison systems are still testing fewer inmates per 1,000 than their state’s general population.  

COVID-19 Tests per 1,000

In the past two weeks, no additional states have reported testing information within prisons. Of the 40 states reporting testing information, 20 have administered more than 500 COVID tests per 1,000 inmates with eight administering more than one test per inmate. Multiple prison systems are still testing fewer inmates per 1,000 than their state’s general population.  

COVID-19 Tests per 1,000

In the past week, no additional states have reported testing information within prisons. Of the 40 states reporting testing information, 18 have administered more than 500 COVID tests per 1,000 inmates with seven administering more than one test per inmate. Multiple prison systems are still testing fewer inmates per 1,000 than their state’s general population.  

COVID-19 Tests per 1,000

Since June 23rd, two additional states have reported testing information within prisons, resulting in 40 states providing testing information. Missouri has also joined the group of states that have administered more than 500 COVID tests per 1,000 inmates. Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, and Vermont have all now administered more than one test per inmate. While this is progress, it is important that prison systems continually test inmates, as prisons continue to be hotspots for COVID outbreaks and corrections officers are continually moving between prisons and the surrounding community. Eleven prison systems are still testing fewer inmates per 1,000 than their state’s general population. This is problematic, given that prisons are sites of congregate living, inmates are unable to social distance, and inmates tend to have worse health than the general population.

COVID Testing within Prisons

As of June 23rd, 12 states have yet to report any testing information within their correctional institutions. These data are critical for understanding the prevalence of COVID. For instance, if states are testing very few inmates, we cannot know the true prevalence of COVID within these facilities.

At the same time, many states have started mass testing, with Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wisconsin having administered more than 500 COVID tests per 1,000 inmates. In these states, testing prevalence surpasses that of the general population. However, these states claim to have expanded testing to all inmates, which has yet to happen and has been slow to scale up. States that have experienced outbreaks, such as Ohio, have expanded mass testing in certain facilities but not systematically throughout the state, resulting in lower testing prevalence overall than their counterparts.

Many prison systems, even those that have not engaged in mass testing, have a testing prevalence per 1,000 that exceeds that of the general population. However, there remains a need to continue to increase testing given that communal living sites are the epicenter of the pandemic and multiple prisons across the country have experienced outbreaks. In particular, 11 prison systems that have released testing information are testing fewer inmates per 1,000 than their state is testing in their general population. For example, Hawaii has tested only 16 of its inmates, resulting in a testing prevalence of 3.76/1,000.

As the pandemic continues, there is a dire need to increase testing in correctional facilities, as it is the only way to detect cases and prevent further spread.

COVID-19 Test Transparency among Prison Systems

As we work to create accurate COVID case counts, it is critical to know the types of tests used by each prison system. Different tests have different information quality (i.e., how good they are at identifying those with COVID and without COVID) and have different types of information (i.e., detecting current COVID infection or those who have had COVID at any point). Both the quality and type of information are needed for us to know how accurate the data are and what story they tell.

From the information we have gleaned, we have various levels of detail. Fortunately, all prison systems we have heard from are using polymerise chain reaction (PCR) tests, which detect current infection rather than ever infection. PCR tests allow for more reliable information for individuals than antibody tests. While antibody tests help track the spread of COVID in a population, given the number of outbreaks in communal living settings, specifically in prisons, PCR tests are crucial. Beyond the fact that most prison systems are using PCR tests, additional information is scattered. Some states have been able to tell us the exact test brand and name (i.e., Georgia, Illinois, Maine), while others have said they don’t have more information than ‘nasal PCR swabs’ or generally ‘PCR tests.’ Still others have said that they work with too many labs to keep track or that they simply do not have the requested testing information.

In sum, 18 states have provided no information, 2 have said that this information is unavailable or unknown, 15 have provided us with some information (i.e., a PCR test is used), 5 states and both the BOP and ICE say they use multiple tests and labs, and 10 have provided full information including the type, name, and brand of test. Making testing information available that is both accurate and precise is critical as we and others track the spread of COVID in prisons. Without it, our information and knowledge is incomplete.