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Since the start of the pandemic, people in jail have faced an inequitably high risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Overcrowding and lack of hygiene supplies have left jail populations particularly vulnerable to outbreaks, while frequent population turnover has made it difficult to prevent and track the spread of new variants. In addition, racial incarceration disparities and frequent COVID-19 cases in jails further contribute to longstanding racial health inequities.

These challenges are compounded by unique public health issues in the southeastern United States, where COVID-19 rates have been higher and vaccination rates have been lower than in other parts of the country. Jails are often operated by county agencies, unlike prisons, and have no centralized system to report rates of infection or vaccination among their populations and staff. This makes it extremely difficult for researchers and public health agencies to understand how the pandemic is impacting jails and create data-driven response strategies.

Jail systems play a complex role in American society, and these pandemic challenges are evidence of how much public health relies on institutional support. As newly published research from Carolina experts in the American Journal of Public Health suggests, the solutions that could have the strongest impact on the health of people who are incarcerated often run into strong structural roadblocks.

Associate Professor David Rosen, MD, PhD, MSPH, from the Division of Infectious Diseases, is a co-author of this study. 

Read the full article here.