Giving Compass' Take:

· Writing for The Marshall Project, Jamiles Lartey explains why prisons provide the perfect area to study the coronavirus and building immunity to it.

· How are jails taking precautions to protect inmates? What public health lessons can be learned from prison outbreaks? 

· Read more about the coronavirus in prisons.

As states unevenly begin to reopen, researchers are scrambling to learn more about the coronavirus and “herd immunity.” That is when a large enough portion of the public has contracted the disease and developed antibodies so that it restrains the spread of the virus.

Prisons, it turns out, may be a key place to study the nature of this virus—including how it transmits and how immunity to it works. Because while antibody rates for the general public, estimated between 1 and 20 percent in most places, remain far too low for herd immunity to kick in, it’s an entirely different story in a number of prisons. At the Marion Correctional Institution in Ohio, nearly 80 percent of prisoners have tested positive for the disease. At the Lompoc federal prison in Santa Barbara, California, that number is around 74 percent. At one dorm in the Elyan Hunt Correctional facility in Louisiana, 192 out of roughly 195 women tested positive.

“There is sort of a natural experiment happening without anybody having to plan it, that we should be able to get data from and try and understand,” said Nina Fefferman, a mathematical modeler at the University of Tennessee.

That’s exactly what researchers from at least one university are trying to do. Joseph Tien, an applied mathematician at Ohio State University, said his team is talking with state officials in Ohio to get data from the Marion outbreak to model how coronavirus transmission there happened. He and other researchers said as valuable as studying prisons could be, they are also paying close attention to the fraught nature and barbarous history of medical research on incarcerated people.

Read the full article about COVID-19 prison outbreaks by Jamiles Lartey at The Marshall Project.