Widespread testing across four U.S. state prison systems revealed a slew of coronavirus cases but found that the vast majority of inmates who tested positive for the virus–96 percent–remained asymptomatic.
Concerns over virus outbreaks in U.S. prisons has remained a point of concern and debate among officials, some of whom have addressed the worries by releasing hundreds of accused and convicted criminals into the public.
Officials have ramped up testing in prison systems and stumbled upon a significant theme among prisoners testing positive for the virus: The vast majority of inmates testing positive for the virus in the Arkansas, North Carolina, Ohio, and Virginia prison systems–96 percent–are asymptomatic, exhibiting none of the traditional signs of the virus, such as a fever, dry cough, and fatigue.
As mass coronavirus testing expands in prisons, large numbers of inmates are showing no symptoms. In four state prison systems — Arkansas, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia — 96% of 3,277 inmates who tested positive for the coronavirus were asymptomatic, according to interviews with officials and records reviewed by Reuters. That’s out of 4,693 tests that included results on symptoms.
The numbers are the latest evidence to suggest that people who are asymptomatic — contagious but not physically sick — may be driving the spread of the virus, not only in state prisons that house 1.3 million inmates across the country, but also in communities across the globe. The figures also reinforce questions over whether testing of just people suspected of being infected is actually capturing the spread of the virus.
Ohio’s Marion Correctional Institution, for example, tested 2,300 inmates for the virus and found that 95 percent of the 2,028 who tested positive showed no symptoms of the virus.
North Carolina’s Neuse State prison yielded similar results, testing 700 inmates, with the number of infections jumping to 444. According to USA Today, 90 percent of the “newly diagnosed” cases were asymptomatic.
“We would never have known,” North Carolina Department of Public Safety spokesman John Bull said, according to USA Today.
Prison testing in other states, Tennessee and Michigan, for example, are reporting similar results:
State prison systems in Michigan, Tennessee and California have also begun mass testing — checking for coronavirus infections in large numbers of inmates even if they show no sign of illness — but have not provided specific counts of asymptomatic prisoners.
Tennessee said a majority of its positive cases didn’t show symptoms. In Michigan, state authorities said “a good number” of the 620 prisoners who tested positive for the coronavirus were asymptomatic. California’s state prison system would not release counts of asymptomatic prisoners.
Meanwhile, progressive groups and Democrat lawmakers have pushed for the release of inmates as a means to address the mounting concerns over the spread of the coronavirus in prison systems. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) said last month that officials should use the pandemic to pursue criminal justice reforms and “decarceral policy.”
“And one thing that we need to do right now is really hit fast forward on progressive developments and pursuing decarceral policy because people’s lives are at risk,” she said during a virtual coronavirus roundtable discussion in March.
“There are people in jails right now, in situations that are completely destitute and wrong,” she continued, pushing “elderly clemency.”
Cities across the country have since released hundreds of inmates during the pandemic, including eight sex offenders in New York State, three of whom were convicted of raping children.
As Breitbart News detailed in March:
This weekend, the Monroe County, New York, jail freed more than 50 inmates from their custody as part of the state’s Department of Corrections and Community Services jailbreak effort in the midst of the coronavirus, according to WIVB 4.
Among those 50 inmates released were eight sex offenders, three of which were convicted for raping a child. Even as the New York state courts have deemed the sex offenders likely to re-victimize children, they were released.
Patrick Phelan, the chief of police in Greece, New York, told WIVB 4 that his office was not notified by state officials of the sex offenders’ release, though the state has placed them in a local Holiday Inn Express.
“This significant action is being taken in response to a growing number of COVID-19 cases in local jails over the past few days and weeks,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) Department of Corrections and Community Services said, defending the action.