Giving Compass' Take:

• Two Stanford co-authors of a study explain why the coronavirus is spreading faster in jails and prisons in the U.S. and how to address the rapid transmission. 

• Three interventions can help slow the spread: Depopulation, increased single celling, and widespread testing of asymptomatic people who are incarcerated. However, not all jails and prisons implement all three of these methods, which is crucial to effectively end the outbreaks. 

•  Read more about the effects and aftermath of COVID-19 in prisons. 

The deadly new coronavirus is spreading faster in America’s jails and prisons than it did on the Princess Diamond cruise ship or at the pandemic’s outbreak in Wuhan, China, research finds.

Why? Few opportunities for social distancing and relatively low sanitary conditions.

The research, which appears in the journal Annals of Epidemiology, is based on day-by-day data from a large urban jail and highlights the health risk that correctional institutions pose during the current crisis—not just to inmates and staff but also to surrounding communities.

Here, two Stanford University coauthors of the study speak about the broader implications. Margaret L. Brandeau, a professor of management sciences and engineering, has spent much of her career analyzing strategies to slow the spread of diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C. Giovanni Malloy is a PhD candidate who works on infectious disease models.

How was this study conducted?

We knew that prisons and jails had become hot spots for the novel coronavirus because there’s very little opportunity for social distancing—it’s common to have two or more people per cell—and sanitary conditions are comparatively low. But we wanted to know precisely how fast it was spreading.

We teamed up with Lisa Puglisi at the Yale School of Medicine, who has long specialized in the health issues of people who are incarcerated. We worked with a large urban jail, which is remaining anonymous, to analyze the daily tallies of people who were testing positive, as well as of people who did and did not become sick, and of people who recovered or died.

After running roughly 1,000 computer simulations based on those numbers, we concluded that each infected person was spreading the virus to 8.44 other people at the very beginning of the outbreak. To put that in perspective, the virus spread 3.6 times faster in this jail than it did aboard the Princess Diamond in February and over 4 times faster than in Wuhan

Read the full article about spreading coronavirus in prisons by Edmund L. Andrews at Futurity.