Two Ohio prisons are now home to the largest known clusters of COVID-19 in the nation, but the mortality rate for inmates with the virus is well below one percent.
The outbreaks at the Marion Correctional Institution and the Pickaway Correctional Institution are the only clusters in the United States with more than 1,000 cases as of Wednesday, according to a New York Times database.
The caseload for both prisons exceeds the number of confirmed cases from the Carvinal-owned Diamond Princess and Grand Princess cruise ships, which had some of the earliest clusters of COVID-19 outside mainland China. According to a recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Diamond Princess produced 712 confirmed COVID-19 cases and the Grand Princess had 469 cases.
As The Ohio Star reported Wednesday, the Marion Correctional Institution has more confirmed cases than any county in the state. The prison now has 2,168 COVID-19 cases among both inmates and staff, according to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC).
The Pickaway prison has 1,632 cases among both staff and inmates, according to figures released Wednesday evening.
Oddly, the DRC is only providing recovery rates for prison staff who have tested positive for the virus, not inmates. The Department of Health told The Ohio Star that it does not currently have data on the number of inmates who have recovered or the age ranges of those who have tested positive, but is working on gathering this information.
Among 331 prison staff members who have tested positive, 35 had recovered as of Wednesday.
Overall, 3,792 Ohio inmates have tested positive for COVID-19. The 3,566 cases from inmates in the Marion and Pickaway prisons account for 94 percent of the total coronavirus cases in Ohio’s prison population.
However, of the 3,792 inmates with COVID-19, just 12 have died from the virus, or 0.3 percent.
Though that mortality rate may increase as the virus runs its course among inmates who have tested positive but have not yet recovered, it is currently dramatically lower than the 4.9 percent mortality rate among the more than 800,000 Americans who have tested positive for coronavirus as of April 22.
That differential may partially reflect the different demographics of the Ohio inmate population, where the average age is lower than the average age of the general population. As many studies have reported, coronavirus mortality rates increase as the age of the patient increases.
It may, however, indicate that the mortality rate is lower than 4.9 percent because, to date, the vast majority of the 4.4 million Americans who have been tested were those who presented symptoms and were authorized for testing by a medical professional while the entire inmate population at Ohio’s Marion and Pickaway prisons were tested, apparently regardless of whether they presented with symptoms or not.
With an inmate population of about 2,500, slightly more than 80 percent (2,011) of prisoners in the Marion Correctional Institution have now tested positive for the virus.
The Cook County Jail in Chicago, Illinois has the third-most COVID-19 cases among American prisons, The Times reports. As of Tuesday evening, the jail had 433 cases among inmates, according to the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, which reported that 192 inmates have recovered and six have died.
The jail has a total population of about 5,500, meaning about eight percent of inmates have tested positive – 10 times less than the percentage who have tested positive at the Marion Correctional Institution.
The DRC attributed the dramatic spike in cases among Ohio’s prison population to “aggressive” testing of inmates. The agency began “mass testing” of inmates at “designated facilities” on April 11.
In total, Ohio’s prison system accounts for 29 percent (4,123) of all 14,117 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Ohio.
Claire Chevrier, advocacy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, called the outbreak in prisons “devastating and terrible,” but “not inevitable.”
“This was a policy choice,” she said on Twitter.
This is devastating and terrifying, but it was not inevitable. This was a policy choice. https://t.co/q0XP7j3RBx #InThisTogetherOhio needs to include everyone. @GovMikeDeWine #YourNeglectIsShowing #COVID19 #Coronavirus #TreatHumansLikeHumans
— Claire Chevrier (@ClaireChevrier2) April 20, 2020
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