COVID Case Watch November 19, 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 November 19, 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 34.51 per 1,000 individuals. In the prison population, the rate is 138.97 per 1,000 individuals. This means that, on average, the rate of COVID infections in prison populations remains over four times the rate of COVID infections in the general population. Arkansas, Hawaii, Kansas, and Maine have a prison infection rate that is over 10 times that of the general population. 

Despite the recent surge of COVID cases in the general population this month, in 47 of the 50 US states, the rate of COVID infections among those imprisoned exceeds the rate of COVID infections among the general population. In the last week, case rates have continued to increase drastically in prisons in multiple states. The largest increase in both the general and prison population cases this past week has occurred in North Dakota, emphasizing that COVID spreads quickly from communities to prisons. Last week, 190 of the state’s 1,461 incarcerated population had tested positive. By this week, 420 had tested positive. Case rates in prisons have also increased drastically in Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. The highest case rate in the state prison systems remains in South Dakota with 2,081 of its incarcerated population (548.50 per 1,000) having tested positive for COVID. 

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.