Sunday, May 17, 2020

Mississippi has tested 44 state prisoners for COVID-19

Mississippi leaders have said that they are testing early and thoroughly for COVID-19, but the state’s Department of Corrections has so far failed to test most of its employees and people in its custody. As of last week, 44 prisoners out of more than 14,000 have been tested for the novel coronavirus at DOC prisons and detention centers—a rate of 0.4 percent, according to The Appeal.
The nearly 20,000 staff members and incarcerated people form a population greater than 43 percent of counties in Mississippi. Yet they are being left out of the state’s testing push, which Governor Tate Reeves has touted as “aggressive” in recent press briefings. 
“Testing is critical to manage this disaster,” he said on April 6, “and that’s one thing that we in Mississippi are very fortunate of, is we became very aggressive very early on testing.”
During a May 6 briefing, The Appeal asked Reeves about the low testing rate inside prisons. He responded, “We haven’t had large numbers of individuals in our prison system that have had symptoms.” The DOC has succeeded in avoiding “major, catastrophic spreading” because of early interventions, he said.
“Much like President Trump was very, very early by cutting off travel to China, in Mississippi we were very early in cutting off visitation in the Department of Corrections,” Reeves said at the same briefing. As of Monday, the DOC reported that 10 incarcerated people and seven employees had tested positive for COVID-19. 
He added that temporarily banning prisoners from doing road work across the state has helped taper the spread, too.
Cliff Johnson, director of the MacArthur Justice Center in Mississippi, said that low rates of testing are not indicative of low disease rates. “The surest way to have zero confirmed cases in your facility is to conduct zero tests,” he said. 
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