More than 70 percent of federal inmates who have been tested for the coronavirus have COVID-19, the Bureau of Prisons said Wednesday.
About 2,700 inmates have been given tests, and 71 percent of those came back positive. Officials say they expect the overall number of cases to rise since testing so far has covered less than 2 percent of the 153,000 inmates in the federal system, The Wall Street Journal reported.
While the low testing rate mirrors that of the general U.S. population, prisons and jails face unique challenges in imposing the physical distancing measures recommended by public health experts to slow the spread of the deadly virus.
“Really, this pandemic is challenging us to rethink almost everything we do, while keeping in mind the security requirements of correctional facilities,” Jeffrey Allen, medical director for the federal Bureau of Prisons, said in an interview Wednesday with the Journal.
Allen said as many as 130 prisoners require hospitalization due to the virus on any given day. High-profile cases include an inmate who died after her baby was delivered through caesarean section while the woman was on a ventilator. At least 343 Bureau of Prison staff have also tested positive for the virus, and another 132 have recovered, according to the agency.
The Bureau of Prisons did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Hill.
“When I hear numbers like that, my thoughts are there is massive under-testing, there are probably thousands of additional people who are infected that they may not have captured yet, and it really feels like a public health crisis in the making,” Ashish Jha, director of Harvard’s Global Health Institute, told the Journal.