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Jails and prisons were hit hard by Covid-19 and experts say they need to be prioritized for the vaccines

January 11, 2021. Summarized by summa-bot.

Compression ratio: 22.1%. 2 min read.

Yesenia Lara spoke to her uncle on the phone nearly every day until May 1. Raul Rodriguez, 61, who was in a Texas county jail after a DUI conviction, had struggled with alcoholism but was a loving man who was "outgoing, always laughing," she said.

As the pandemic enters a new chapter, with two authorized Covid-19 vaccines on the US market, leading public health professionals have called for incarcerated people and corrections staff to be prioritized in vaccinations.

"We have staff and people who are released from jail and prison, moving out of the correctional space into their home communities.

And while incarcerated populations aren't explicitly mentioned in any of the phases, the group said jurisdictions may choose to vaccinate them at the same time as staff.

In Texas alone, the University of Texas at Austin in November found there had been more than 230 Covid-19 deaths in the state's correctional facilities, including both staff and incarcerated people.

Nonprofit Essie Justice Group and online racial justice organization Color of Change surveyed more than 700 people with an incarcerated loved one and found more than half of responders said their loved one had at least one underlying health condition the CDC deems at higher risk for Covid-19 complications.

Sharon Dolovich, a professor of law at the University of California, Los Angeles and the director of the Covid-19 Behind Bars Data Project says, jails and prisons -- like other congregate settings, including nursing homes -- continue to be hotspots for the virus.

"All the arguments that anybody would offer for prioritizing people who live in long-term care facilities also apply to prisons," she said.

More than 480 health experts signed an open letter last month urging the CDC advisory group and state leaders to prioritize incarcerated populations and corrections staff for vaccinations.

"It's very hard because usually, when you walk out the prison door to go home, you're going home to your family," Ormsby, with the corrections officers union, said.

In Texas, where neither corrections staff nor inmates are explicitly mentioned in the vaccination plan, a corrections department spokesman said they've received more than 4,600 doses -- all of which will go to healthcare staffers.

"What I would like to ask the state legislators, US Congressmen, US senators, and everybody else that has anything to do with this vaccine," said Ormsby, with the corrections officers union, "Would they send their family members to work in a prison without it?"

Rhode Island, where both groups were placed in the second of three phases in the state's draft plan, the corrections department said vaccinations began last month for frontline workers, correctional officers and high-risk inmates.

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