Epidemiology of COVID-19 Among Incarcerated Individuals and Staff in Massachusetts Jails and Prisons | Infectious Diseases | JAMA Network Open | JAMA Network
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Figure.  Rates of COVID-19 Cases Compared With the Rates of Testing and the Percentage of the Incarcerated Population Released
Rates of COVID-19 Cases Compared With the Rates of Testing and the Percentage of the Incarcerated Population Released

Rate of (A) COVID-19 testing per 1000 persons and (B) percentage of incarcerated population released against confirmed cases per 1000 among incarcerated persons by county carceral facilities and the state prison system. Diamonds represent multiple facilities; circles, county jails. Ba indicates Barnstable County; Be, Berkshire County; Br, Bristol County; D, Dukes County; DOC, Department of Corrections; E, Essex County; F, Franklin County; Hd, Hampden County; Hs, Hampshire County; M, Middlesex County; N, Norfolk County; P, Plymouth County; S, Suffolk County; and W, Worcester County.

Table.  Rates of Confirmed Cases of COVID-19 and Testing by Carceral System Compared With the General Population in Massachusetts and the United Statesa
Rates of Confirmed Cases of COVID-19 and Testing by Carceral System Compared With the General Population in Massachusetts and the United Statesa
1.
Wallace  M, Marlow  M, Simonson  S,  et al.  Public health response to COVID-19 cases in correctional and detention facilities—Louisiana, March-April 2020.   MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2020;69(19):594-598. doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm6919e3PubMedGoogle ScholarCrossref
2.
Saloner  B, Parish  K, Ward  JA, DiLaura  G, Dolovich  S.  COVID-19 cases and deaths in federal and state prisons.   JAMA. Published online July 8, 2020. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.12528PubMedGoogle Scholar
3.
Lofgren  E, Lum  K, Horowitz  A, Madubuonwu  B, Fefferman  N. The epidemiological implications of incarceration dynamics in jails for community, corrections officer, and incarcerated population risks from COVID-19. MedRxiv. Preprint posted online May 4, 2020. doi:10.1101/2020.04.08.20058842
4.
ACLU Massachusetts. Tracking COVID-19 in Massachusetts prison & jails. Updated July 23, 2020. Accessed July 11, 2020. https://data.aclum.org/sjc-12926-tracker/
5.
Mass.gov. COVID-19 updates and information. Updated July 22, 2020. Accessed July 11, 2020. https://www.mass.gov/info-details/covid-19-updates-and-information#daily-updates-
6.
The COVID Tracking Project. Accessed July 17, 2020. https://covidtracking.com/
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    Research Letter
    Public Health
    August 21, 2020

    Epidemiology of COVID-19 Among Incarcerated Individuals and Staff in Massachusetts Jails and Prisons

    Author Affiliations
    • 1Division of Women’s Health, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts
    • 2Department of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts
    • 3Department of Epidemiology, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts
    • 4François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts
    • 5Department of Oral Health Policy and Epidemiology, Harvard School of Dental Medicine, Boston, Massachusetts
    JAMA Netw Open. 2020;3(8):e2018851. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.18851
    Introduction

    Incarcerated populations have exceptionally high risk of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) transmission and mortality due to overcrowding, movement through facilities, and high rates of chronic illness; hence, physical distancing is not a viable mitigation strategy.1 As of June 6, 2020, at least 42 107 cases and 510 deaths have occurred among individuals incarcerated in US prisons.2 Decarceration and increased testing may reduce transmission, but their efficacy is uncertain.3 Jails confine nearly one-third of incarcerated individuals, but data on COVID-19 in jails are limited. However, Massachusetts reports data on COVID-19 in both county jails and state prisons. We describe the COVID-19 burden in these settings and its association with decarceration and testing rates.

    Methods

    Data used in this cohort study were reported by 16 Massachusetts Department of Corrections (MA DOC) facilities and 13 county-level systems from April 5 through July 8, 2020, pursuant to a court order.4 This study used publicly available, deidentified data and was deemed exempt from institutional review board approval by Partners HealthCare. We followed the Strengthening the Reporting of Observational Studies in Epidemiology (STROBE) reporting guideline.

    We used baseline facility populations to calculate cumulative testing and laboratory-confirmed case rates per 1000 persons and changes in incarcerated population size (ie, decarceration). Case and testing rates among staff could not be calculated. We report rate ratios (RR) for individuals incarcerated in Massachusetts relative to the state and US general populations.5,6 Analyses were conducted in R, version 3.6.3 (R Foundation).

    Results

    At baseline, 14 987 individuals were incarcerated across Massachusetts facilities (MA DOC, 7735; county facilities, 7252). As of July 8, 2020, 1032 confirmed cases of COVID-19 were reported among incarcerated individuals (n = 664) and staff (n = 368). The rate of COVID-19 was 44.3 cases per 1000 persons—2.91 (95% CI, 2.69-3.14) times higher than the Massachusetts general population and 4.80 (95% CI, 4.45-5.18) times the US general population (Table). Reported incidence was lower in county facilities (35.71 cases per 1000 persons) than in MA DOC facilities (52.36 cases per 1000 persons); however, many county facilities had low testing rates (facilities in 5 counties tested <100 per 1000 persons).

    Overall, systems with higher testing rates had higher case rates (Figure, A). For example, the testing rate across all county jails was 254 per 1000 persons, with a case rate of 36 cases per 1000 persons, whereas MA DOC facilities had a testing rate of 1093 per 1000 persons and a case rate of 52 cases per 1000 persons. The proportion of positive tests among incarcerated individuals in county facilities was higher (14%) than in MA DOC facilities (5%) and the general Massachusetts (9%) and US (8%) populations. Case incidence was higher among systems that released a lower proportion of their baseline population (Figure, B). The MA DOC case rate was 52 cases per 1000 persons with a population decrease of 9% compared with all county jails, which had a case rate of 36 case per 1000 persons and decreased their overall population by 21%. County jails released up to 35% of incarcerated individuals. A gradual decline in reported cases among incarcerated individuals and staff was observed, corresponding to a decrease of 15% in the incarcerated population.

    Discussion

    To our knowledge, this is the first examination of COVID-19 burden among incarcerated individuals and staff in both jails and prisons. The rate of COVID-19 among incarcerated individuals was nearly 3 times that of the Massachusetts general population and 5 times the US rate, consistent with recent reports in US federal and state prisons.2 Systems with smaller reductions in incarcerated populations and higher testing rates demonstrated higher rates of confirmed cases. Limited testing likely underestimates the true infection rate in county jails.

    These data are limited by absence of deaths and demographic characteristics. Owing to structural racism and the criminalization of poverty, COVID-19 racial/ethnic inequities may be exacerbated among incarcerated individuals. Whereas rates of COVID-19 vary nationwide, our results add to a growing body of literature emphasizing high COVID-19 rates in carceral settings and the importance of testing and decarceration.1-3

    Rates of COVID-19 in Massachusetts jails and prisons are alarmingly high and require urgent action. Reporting of COVID-19 data from carceral facilities is highly variable and generally excludes county jails; hence, standardization is needed. Access to testing without coercion, decarceration, and contact tracing are necessary to decrease harm from COVID-19 to incarcerated people and their communities.

    Back to top
    Article Information

    Accepted for Publication: July 18, 2020.

    Published: August 21, 2020. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.18851

    Correction: This article was corrected on August 28, 2020, to fix a sentence in the Discussion that incorrectly reported the percentage of positive COVID-19 tests in county jails. The incorrect statement was deleted.

    Open Access: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the CC-BY License. © 2020 Jiménez MC et al. JAMA Network Open.

    Corresponding Author: Monik C. Jiménez, ScD, SM, FAHA, Division of Women’s Health, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, 1620 Tremont St, 3-034, Boston, MA 02120 (mjimenez11@partners.org).

    Author Contributions: Dr Jiménez had full access to all the data in the study and takes responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis.

    Concept and design: All authors.

    Acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data: Cowger, Simon, Cassarino.

    Drafting of the manuscript: Jiménez, Cowger, Behn, Cassarino.

    Critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content: Cowger, Simon, Behn, Cassarino, Bassett.

    Statistical analysis: Jiménez, Cowger, Simon.

    Obtained funding: Behn, Cassarino.

    Administrative, technical, or material support: Bassett.

    Conflict of Interest Disclosures: Dr Jiménez reported receiving grants from Brigham and Women’s Hospital during the conduct of the study. No other disclosures were reported.

    Funding/Support: Dr Jiménez is supported by grant K01HL124391 from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and the Brigham and Women’s Hospital H. Richard Nesson Fellowship.

    Role of the Funder/Sponsor: The funders had no role in the design and conduct of the study; collection, management, analysis, and interpretation of the data; preparation, review, or approval of the manuscript; and decision to submit the manuscript for publication.

    References
    1.
    Wallace  M, Marlow  M, Simonson  S,  et al.  Public health response to COVID-19 cases in correctional and detention facilities—Louisiana, March-April 2020.   MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2020;69(19):594-598. doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm6919e3PubMedGoogle ScholarCrossref
    2.
    Saloner  B, Parish  K, Ward  JA, DiLaura  G, Dolovich  S.  COVID-19 cases and deaths in federal and state prisons.   JAMA. Published online July 8, 2020. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.12528PubMedGoogle Scholar
    3.
    Lofgren  E, Lum  K, Horowitz  A, Madubuonwu  B, Fefferman  N. The epidemiological implications of incarceration dynamics in jails for community, corrections officer, and incarcerated population risks from COVID-19. MedRxiv. Preprint posted online May 4, 2020. doi:10.1101/2020.04.08.20058842
    4.
    ACLU Massachusetts. Tracking COVID-19 in Massachusetts prison & jails. Updated July 23, 2020. Accessed July 11, 2020. https://data.aclum.org/sjc-12926-tracker/
    5.
    Mass.gov. COVID-19 updates and information. Updated July 22, 2020. Accessed July 11, 2020. https://www.mass.gov/info-details/covid-19-updates-and-information#daily-updates-
    6.
    The COVID Tracking Project. Accessed July 17, 2020. https://covidtracking.com/
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