COVID-19 Testing and Prevention in Correctional Settings

In a new collaboration, Dr. Sandra Soo-Jin Lee will work with Emily Wang, MD at Yale and the SEICHE Center for Health and Justice and Lauren Brinkley-Rubenstein, PhD in the Department of Social Medicine at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, on the study “COVID-19 Testing and Prevention in Correctional Settings.” The study is funded by the NIH Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics for Underserved Populations (RADxUP) Program and addresses the disproportionately high rates of COVID-19 infection and mortality in correctional facilities. 

Project Summary: Correctional settings account for 39 of the 50 largest outbreaks of COVID-19 in the US to date. Transmission of the COVID-19 virus (SARS-CoV-2) is amplified in correctional settings due to restricted access to sanitizing supplies, personal protective equipment and diagnostic tests, close congregant living conditions, and exposure to correctional staff who unknowingly transmit the infection from the community. Incarcerated people are also more likely to die from COVID-19 compared to the general population. Therefore, there is an urgent need for the development and implementation of long-term COVID-19 testing and prevention strategies targeting incarcerated populations and correctional staff. However, there are also long-standing ethical and pragmatic concerns unique to corrections, which may present as barriers to the successful implementation of prevention strategies. Prior work has not explored the ethical, legal, and social barriers to COVID-19 testing and vaccine administration in corrections, especially centered around the values, preferences, and needs of those who work and live in correctional facilities.

The study is funded by the NIH/NIDA through the Program for “Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics for Underserved Populations (RADxUP)” and addresses the disproportionately high rates of COVID-19 infection and mortality in correctional facilities. We will identify ethical and feasible solutions to administer upwards of 40,000 tests in carceral settings in Florida, Rhode Island, Minnesota, and Yakima County, Washington. By building strategic partnerships with individuals with a history of incarceration and community and correctional policymakers, we will identify ethical strategies to scale testing, contact tracing, and vaccine delivery in correctional facilities.

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