After a long and complicated battle, Texas has finally announced that COVID-19 testing will be made widely available to prisoners across the state. This means we’ll not only have more information about the spread of the virus in prisons, but prisoners will be able to get the treatment and protection they deserve during this pandemic. Here’s everything you need to know about the COVID-19 threat to prisoners and how the state is working to treat it.
How COVID-19 Impacts Prisoners
The spread of COVID-19 is quick and sneaky, with symptoms staying dormant for more than two weeks after being exposed. Prisoners are at higher risk of contracting the virus because they don’t have the space to socially distance, and they don’t have access to basic supplies like face masks and hand sanitizer. COVID-19 is spreading up to 30% faster in jails and prisons than the general population, and the lack of testing means it could be much worse than we know. Prisoners who abused drugs are at an even higher risk because their immune systems could be damaged, and high-risk prisoners aren’t receiving the special attention they need in order to prevent exposure.
The Push for Increased Testing in Prisons
Health care professionals and prisoner rights advocates have been pushing for widespread COVID-19 testing in prisons, since unsanitary conditions and close quarters can increase the rate that the virus spreads. The testing we have for the virus isn’t perfect, and some healthcare professionals have warned about false negatives, but increased testing will help prisons identify and isolate sick prisoners from healthy ones, which is essential to flattening the curve and decreasing the impact of the virus. Infectious disease experts have also called for the release of some prisoners to reduce populations and lighten the burden on prison healthcare professionals.
Widespread COVID-19 Testing Will Finally be Available for Prisoners
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice was only testing symptomatic inmates until late April, which has proven to be an ineffective way of identifying the population of sick inmates. Some prisons facing large-scale outbreaks of the virus have started testing asymptomatic prisoners and staff, but this protocol wasn’t in place at most Texas prisons. Now that widespread testing is available, asymptomatic prisoners can also be tested and isolated if they test positive. Many politicians and healthcare professionals argue that the testing isn’t effective on its own, and that we need to wait and see how prisons will respond to the increase in positive cases. For now, we can be grateful that prisoners are finally receiving the testing they deserve and hope that prisons are effective in treating the virus.
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