Per capita Coronavirus cases in the Alabama Black Belt are at high levels

By: John Zippert, Co-Publisher

As of August 5, 2020 at 11:25 AM
Alabama had 91,776 confirmed cases of coronavirus,
(11,000 more than last week) with 1,639 deaths (41 more than last week)
-Greene County had 247 confirmed cases,
(10 more cases than last week), with 11 deaths
-Sumter Co. had 360 cases with 18 deaths
Hale Co. had 459 cases with 26 deaths

Looking at maps and statistics on the prevalence of coronavirus in Alabama, the map to the right caught my eye. It shows that the Alabama Black Belt counties across the State of Alabama have among the highest per capita rates of coronavirus cases.
The map shows the number of cases in the county, per 100,000 people.
The darker the color of the county, the higher the per capita rate of the disease.
This means while the number of cases in each county is small, in comparison to the total population of the county, the incidence, rate of disease, is higher in many of these rural counties, with significant African-American populations.
The county in the state with the highest number of cases, Jefferson with 12,186 cases, has a per capita rate per 100,000 people of 1,850. In Mobile Co with 9,269 cases, the per capita rate per 100,000 is 2, 243. In Greene County with 247 cases, the per capita rate per 100,000 people is 3,045.

For Sumter County with 360 cases, the per capita infection rate is 2,897. In Hale County with 459 cases, the per capita infection rate is 3,313. For Perry County, the infection rate per 100,000 is 4,841; in Marengo County the rate is 2,804; Dallas County has a per capita rate of 3,490; the rate for Wilcox County is 3,962; and for Lowndes County the rate is 5,768. Going toward the eastern side of the state, Montgomery County has a rate of 2,804; Bullock County has a rate of 4.396 and Macon County has a rate of 1,749.
Mostly every county in the Alabama Black Belt has a higher per capita, per 100,000 population rate than either Jefferson or Mobile counties, which have the highest numerical coronavirus head counts in the state.
This means, the coronavirus infection rate in relation to the population is proportionately much higher in the smaller, poorer, rural counties of the Alabama Black Belt. The Alabama Black Belt counties deserve more attention and funding than they have received for testing, contact tracing, isolation and treatment than they have received so far since the start of this pandemic.
As the dark color on the per capita case map suggests, the Black Belt counties, especially those in the western Black Belt have a high prevalence of the coronavirus disease and should receive more attention before the situation gets worse.
This map should not be a great surprise, since we have known that health care disparities existed in the Black Belt counties before the onset of the coronavirus. This is because these rural counties have high African-American populations, low incomes and significant poverty. Many of the people living in the Alabama Black Belt have co-morbities for the coronavirus, i. e. , diabetes, asthma, COPD, hypertension, obesity, which make people more vulnerable to the virus.
Despite the Alabama Black Belt being rural and people are more spread out than in urban areas, they do live in multi-family and in some cases crowded households, which facilitates the spread of the virus.
The map and other data are available at for examination and analysis.

Newswire: African trade pact expected to boost the income of participating countries

Map of Africa

by BlackmansStreet.Today

UN News—The African Continental Free Trade Area represents a major opportunity for countries to boost growth, reduce poverty, broaden economic inclusion and help “expand opportunities for all Africans,” said a World Bank official on Monday, which if fully implemented, could boost regional income by around $450 billion.
By making African countries more competitive and lifting some 68 million people out of moderate poverty, the Free Trade Area, or AfCFTA for short, has the potential to increase employment opportunities and incomes”, said the bank’s Chief Economist for Africa, Albert Zeufack.
The pact was brokered by the African Union and entered into force at the end of May last year for the 24 countries that had deposited their instruments of ratification. However, according to news reports, it is unlikely to be implemented for several months, due to the disruptions caused by the coronavirus. The initial deadline to begin trading had been 1 July this year.
According to a new World Bank report, the trade pact could improve regional income by $450 billion – or around seven percent of current regional income – speed up wage growth for women, and lift 30 million people out of extreme poverty by 2035.
With the aim of creating a single, Africa-wide economic market, AfCFTA offers its members unhindered access to commodities, goods, and services across the continent.
In light of the havoc that COVID-19 has wreaked on the African economy, the report suggests that gains achieved will be particularly important.
The pandemic has already caused major trade disruptions across the continent, including in critical medical supplies and food, and is expected to cause up to $79 billion in output losses in 2020. However, by supporting regional trade and reducing trade costs, the successful implementation of AfCFTA would cushion negative COVID-19 effects on economic growth.
Most of AfCFTA’s income gains are likely to come by cutting red tape and simplifying customs procedures. The report explains that tariff liberalization accompanied by reducing non-tariff barriers would boost income by about $153 billion.
The remaining $292 billion would be resulting in measures such as lowering trade costs for businesses and facilitating African businesses to integrate into global supply chains.
In the longer term, the pact would provide a path for integration and enhanced growth for African countries, the report maintains. Moreover, by replacing a patchwork of regional agreements, streamlining border procedures, and prioritizing trade reforms, AfCFTA could also help increase resiliency to future economic shocks.
The African Continental Free Trade Area has the potential to increase employment opportunities and incomes — World Bank economist
While overall economic gains would vary – with the largest benefits going to countries with highest trade costs – the report pointed out that the agreement would spur larger wage gains for women, while boosting wages for skilled and unskilled workers alike.


As of July 8, 2020 at 10:00 AM
Alabama had 46,424 confirmed cases of coronavirus with 1,032 deaths

Greene County had 188 confirmed cases with 8 deaths; 22 more cases in a week
Sumter Co. had 285 cases with 12 deaths

Hale Co. had 317 cases with 22 deaths

Coronavirus Testing in Greene County

Thursday, July 9, 2020
Eutaw Activity Center
9:00 AM to 12 Noon
University of Alabama Medical Outreach

Saturday, July 11, 2020
Jena, Alabama
Volunteer Fire
9:00 AM to 12 Noon
Greene Co. Coronavirus Testing Team

Thursday, July 16, 2020
Eutaw, Alabama
behind City Hall
9:00 AM to 12 Noon
Maude Whatley Health System

Saturday, July 18, 2020
Tishabee, Alabama
place – TBA
9:00 AM to 12 Noon
Greene County Coronavirus Testing Team

Newswire: Cuba’s two pandemics: The Coronavirus and the US Embargo

By Josefina Vidal Ferreiro, Al Jazeera

Cuban doctors mobilize for service in the pandemic

The Trump administration is trying to hinder Cuba’s efforts to tackle the coronavirus emergency at home and abroad.
As soon as the first cases of COVID-19 were detected in Cuba, our country mobilized all its resources to contain the spread of the virus.
Our healthcare workers go door to door checking people for possible symptoms. Those with symptoms are transferred to specially designated centres to receive treatment, mostly with medication developed by Cuba’s own pharmaceutical and biotech industry. The medical examinations and treatments are all provided free of charge.
As of June 20, 85 people have died of COVID-19 in Cuba. Our mortality rate of 3.9 percent is very low compared to the rest of the world. We reached the peak of the disease on April 24, but we are still encouraging people to respect physical distancing, isolation and sanitary measures.
Internationally, Cuba has responded to requests for collaboration from more than 20 countries, mainly in Latin America and the Caribbean, but also in Europe, Africa and the Middle East.
Cuba has a long history and tradition of international solidarity with other countries in the health sector that dates back to the 1960s, when we started sending healthcare workers to help other countries. From then on, more than 400,000 Cuban doctors and health professionals have provided services in 164 countries. We have helped strengthen local healthcare systems, provided services in remote areas and trained doctors.
Based on this long experience, in 2005 Cuba decided to create the Henry Reeve International Medical Brigade to respond to natural disasters and serious epidemics across the world. Since then, this brigade of over 7,000 doctors, nurses and other health specialists has provided services in more than 20 countries.
We sent doctors and nurses to staff 32 field hospitals after the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan. We sent a medical team to Indonesia in 2006 after the devastating tsunami. We sent more than 1,700 health workers to Haiti in 2010 after the catastrophic earthquake and the ensuing cholera epidemic. In 2014, we sent brigades to Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone to combat Ebola.
Even Samantha Power, former US President Barack Obama’s UN Ambassador, praised Cuba for its outstanding role in the fight against Ebola.
We even had brigades ready to assist Louisiana after New Orleans was hit by Hurricane Katrina but the US government rejected our cooperation.
Assisting others has always been part of who we are as a country and part of the ethical training Cuban doctors and health professionals receive.
In response to the current pandemic, Cuba has dispatched 28 contingents of the Henry Reeve Brigade to help 26 countries. This is in addition to the more than 28,000 Cuban doctors, nurses and health professionals who were already overseas before the pandemic.

Unfortunately, Cuban doctors and the Henry Reeve Brigade, in particular, have come under increasing attacks by the Trump administration, which has gone so far as to falsely accuse Cuba of human trafficking through its doctor program.
It is a shame that the United States government has been trying to discredit Cuba’s international assistance, including using pressure and threats against countries to force them to cancel these medical cooperation agreements.
They have even tried to pressure governments to reject Cuba’s help during the coronavirus pandemic. They claim the Cuban government is exploiting these doctors because in the case of countries that can afford to provide monetary compensation, a portion of it is kept by the Cuban government.
However, working overseas is completely voluntary, and the portion the Cuban government keeps goes to pay for Cuba’s universal health system. It goes to purchasing medical supplies, equipment and medication for Cuba’s 11 million people, including for the families of the doctors who are providing their services abroad. This is how we are able to provide free, high-quality healthcare for the Cuban people.
Instead of exacerbating conflict during a pandemic, our countries need to work together to find solutions. For years, Cuba has been developing pharmaceuticals and vaccines to treat different diseases, from psoriasis and cancer to heart attacks. Now we are helping patients recover from COVID-19 with Interferon Alfa2b Recombinant, one of 19 medications being developed or under clinical trial in Cuba by our biotech and pharmaceutical industries to treat different stages of COVID-19. Globally, we have received more than 70 requests for pharmaceuticals developed by Cuba.
This would be a clear avenue for Cuba-US cooperation but unfortunately, the Trump administration is wasting this opportunity by dismantling the limited progress made by Cuba and the US during the Obama administration.
President Trump strengthened the 60-year US blockade against my country, implementing 90 economic measures against Cuba between January 2019 and March 2020 alone. These measures have targeted the main sectors of the Cuban economy, including our financial transactions, tourism industry, energy sector, foreign investments – which are key for the development of the Cuban economy – and the medical cooperation programmes with other countries.
These unilateral coercive measures are unprecedented in their level of aggression and scope. They are deliberately trying to deprive Cuba of resources, sources of revenue and income needed for the development of the Cuban economy. The effects of these measures are being felt in Cuba, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. The blockade is stopping Cuba from getting much-needed medical supplies. For example, if more than 10 percent of the components in the medical equipment or medications we want to buy are of US origin, then Cuba is not allowed to purchase them.
In addition, the US has imposed restrictions on banks, airlines and shipping companies to stop Cuba from receiving materials that other countries are donating or sending to Cuba.
In April, the Alibaba Foundation of China tried to donate masks, rapid diagnostic kits and ventilators to Cuba, but the airline contracted by Alibaba to transport those items to Cuba refused to take the goods because they were afraid the US would sanction them.
A ship recently arrived in Cuba with raw materials to produce medications but it decided not to unload because the bank involved in the transaction decided not to make the payment out of fear it would be sanctioned by the US government.
So this is why we say we are suffering from two pandemics: COVID-19 and the US blockade. For that reason, it is so important that people of goodwill around the world continue to raise the demand to end the blockade of Cuba and to forcefully assert that these are times for solidarity and cooperation, not sanctions and blockades. In the meantime, Cuba, as a country that understands the value of solidarity, will continue to do our best to stop the spread of coronavirus at home and globally.

Greene County Commission approves resolution requiring face coverings to slow spread of coronavirus; reaches partial agreement with Sheriff on budget shortfall

In a specially called telephone conference call on Monday, June 29, 2020, the Greene County Commission adopted a resolution requiring people to wear face coverings, when they are in public settings, in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
The resolution is a response to the continuing rise in coronavirus cases in the state and in Greene County. During the month of June, cases in the State of Alabama rose from 18,000 to over 37,000 with deaths increasing from 653 to 986.
In Greene County cases increased from 95 with 4 deaths to 164 with 7 deaths.
The County’s resolution which goes into effect at 5:00 PM on Wednesday, July 1, 2020 and continues indefinitely until changed by the Commission, has some exceptions. You do not need to wear a mask at home, driving in your car, and when you are outdoors, with less than ten people, who are socially distancing, by at least six feet.
The County’s resolution as contrasted with the City of Eutaw’s ordinance, has no enforcement provisions or penalty for non-compliance. The Eutaw ordinance has a warning ticket for the first offense and a $25 fine for each additional violation.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the nation’s Federal health agency strongly encourages the wearing of face coverings – masks, when people are in public settings as a preventive measure to stop the spread the highly contagious novel coronavirus.
The City’s ordinance is printed in full in our Legal Advertisement section.
According to Commissioner Chair, Allen Turner, the County Commission declined to run their full resolution as a Legal Advertisement.
Commission reaches partial agreement with Sheriff Benison on budget shortfall
The Greene County Commission held two recessed meetings in the past two weeks to discuss the budget shortfall in the Sheriff’s account for personnel and operations. These meetings were held in Executive Session, behind closed doors because they involve legal matters and the name and character of individual employees. After the Executive Sessions, Commission Chair Allen Turner informed the public that no formal official votes were taken to resolve the matters under discussion in the private sessions.
The Greene County Democrat was provided with an exchange of letters between the Greene County Commission and Sheriff Joe Benison on the status of the Sheriff’s Department budget. In prior discussions and negotiations, the Sheriff had agreed to pay supplementary funds to support the employment of staff positions for deputies and jailers beyond the amounts contained in the basic Commission budget for 2019-2020 fiscal year, which began on October 1, 2019.
In its June 23, 2020 letter to the Sheriff, the Greene County Commission indicates that the Sheriff has, as of June 2020, spent all but 9% of budgeted funds for personnel and that there are no other funds that can be transferred to this line item. The County has continued to pay all of the Sheriff’s staff under a prior agreement that the Sheriff would reimburse the county, presumably from electronic bingo fees earned by the Sheriff. The Sheriff has not paid the agreed upon amounts.
In the letter, the Commission states for the six months, January to June 2020, the Sheriff has paid $381,264 of $ 759,303 owed for additional staff above the budgeted number. The Commission also requests immediate payment of two pay periods, at $41,473.10 per pay period, for salaries – $82,964.20; and an additional $100,000 to replenish other budget items that have been depleted to pay staff to date. The Commission also requests payment of $163,000 monthly, starting July 1, as provided in its original agreement with the Sheriff. The Commission says in its letter if the required payments are not made, then reductions in staffing will be implemented.
In his letter of June 25, 2020, Sheriff Benison responds to the County Commission by saying that events, more specifically the COVID-19 pandemic, which interrupted electronic bingo from mid-March to mid June, have occurred, which make it impossible for the Sheriff’s Department to meet its commitments under the original September 2019 agreement.
The Sheriff requests that the 2019 contract be declared null and void, canceling his $ 378,039 debt to the county because of the unforeseen circumstances of COVID-19. The Sheriff agrees to pay $41,473.10, for each two week payroll, starting now and each two weeks following. He also agrees to pay the County Commission $104,973 in bingo fees for the month of July and as much as $135,363 in ensuing months. Under the Sheriff’s bingo rules, the Commission is entitled to these funds, when bingo is operational. The Commission has budgeted these funds for a match fund for Federal and State road and bridge projects.The Sheriff seems to be suggesting that the Commission use these funds to make up the deficit in his operational budget. The Sheriff also requests that there be no layoffs in staff for this fiscal year period.
The Sheriff and the County Commission discussed the issues in their respective letters behind closed doors in the Executive Session. They were not able to reach a full resolution of the issues. The County Commission was unwilling to release the Sheriff from his obligations under the original contract and still holds him responsible for the $378,039 debt.
We have learned that the Sheriff gave the Greene County Commission, two checks for $41,473.10 each, to cover the current and next upcoming payroll and promised to bring additional funds in July, towards his share of the Sheriff’s Department budget. This partial solution averted the layoffs of any Sheriff’s Department staff.
In his letter, the Sheriff also indicates that if circumstances force electronic bingo in the county to close again that he would be unable to meet his financial obligations to the county.

SOS places body bags on the steps of the State Capitol in Montgomery to symbolize the disparate healthcare impacts of the coronavirus pandemic and the need for Medicaid Expansion

As of June 3, 2020 at 9:00 AM
Alabama had 18,717 confirmed cases of
coronavirus, with 653 deaths
Greene County had 95 confirmed cases
with 4 deaths
Sumter County had 227 confirmed cases with 7 deaths
and Hale County had 182
cases with 9 deaths

Montgomery, AL – The Save OurSelves Movement for Justice and Democracy held an Alabama State Capitol Body Bag Memorial Caravan as well as a press conference on the steps of the Alabama State Capitol on Thursday, May 28, 2020. The caravan and press conference included body bags to symbolize and memorialize all the lives lost and the lives that will be lost in Alabama due to COVID-19 as well as additional deaths due to state leaders’ failure to take action to expand Medicaid.
SOS placed ten body bags to symbolize the over 100,000 deaths from the coronavirus pandemic. These body bags also represented the 700 or more people dying each year in Alabama from the failure to expand Medicaid and provide health care to 340,000 working poor people.
SOS Direct Action Committee Chair Faya Rose Toure said: “Alabama has been all over the national and state news for more than a week. This is because COVID-19 cases are spiking in our state, deaths are increasing and many hospitals are full. In Montgomery, a city with three major hospitals, people have been told to go to Birmingham for care due to the fact ICU beds have filled. These body bags we have with us today are symbolic of all of the unnecessary deaths taking place in this state. The tragic thing is there will be many more unnecessary deaths and many more body bags if action is not immediately taken.”
World Conference of Mayors Founder Johnny Ford said: “We are again calling on the federal government to do whatever is necessary to make sure that all the resources necessary for testing and tracing are available in Alabama and also to make sure they are directed to those most in need, whether they are on the front lines, whether they live in minority communities and more. The federal government must act forcefully right now. Too must time has already been wasted, and we cannot afford to waste another second while more body bags are filled with people who could and should still be alive.”
Community Advocate Karen Jones said: “We must all wear masks when we are out in public, and businesses should mandate that their employees and customers wear masks. Masks are not a political issue. They are a life and death issue. Masks are for everyone’s safety, so MASK UP ALABAMA for the health of everyone! These body bags on the steps of the Capitol represent the deaths of hundreds of people in Alabama because, as of today, there have been 583 deaths in our state attributed to the coronavirus, and doctors believe there are even more. There are also more than 16,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Alabama. We do not want to see any more body bags filled with Alabama bodies. So mask up Alabama! Also while the expansion of Medicaid cannot stop the virus now, expanding Medicaid can reduce the number of deaths. We must stop every single death that we can. And we must expand Medicaid – for now and for the future!”
Dr. Joe Reed, Chair of the Alabama Democratic Conference, said: “If the State of Alabama does not want to take federal money to expand Medicaid then it should be consistent and refuse all the other federal money Alabama takes. Every year Alabama takes billions more in federal dollars than it gives to the United States. For every one dollar, Alabama and Alabamians pay in federal taxes, our state and its people get back $61.56 from the federal government. Alabama has always been a taker state. Alabama needs to be consistent and take the federal funds to expand Medicaid now and improve the health and save of the lives of the people of the state. Alabama can do it now it if it wants to do it.”
Chair of the Greene County Health Systems John Zippert said: “I have watched doctors from across the state tell heartbreaking stories of what they and their patients are personally facing in fighting COVID-19 in Alabama. And these have not been doctors at rural hospitals. I know firsthand the dire situation rural hospitals in Alabama deal with every day and have been dealing with long before the coronavirus pandemic hit. Governor Ivey has opened up large parts of Alabama, and, with that, Alabama pulmonologists, infections disease specialists and other doctors anticipate more patients contracting the virus, requiring hospitalization and dying from COVID-19 in our state. The danger has been real for a long time, but it is becoming even more dangerous now. If Alabama does not expand Medicaid, our leaders will be responsible for many more deaths and hospital closures that could be avoided.”
Rev. Kenneth Glasscow of the Ordinary Peoples Society in Dothan and SOS Justice Committee Co-chair stated,” We must be concerned about the special problems of people in our jails and prisons. The State of Alabama and local jurisdictions should be releasing non-violent and elderly inmates who are in danger of contracting and dying from the coronavirus because there is no way to practice social distancing in our jails and prisons. We must also condemn the State of Alabama for accepting more Federal funds for policing but not for Medicaid expansion to heal the sick and injured.”
Attorney and former state Senator Hank Sanders said: “In Alabama, we always find money to do what we want to do. We can find the money to expand Medicaid, even during this pandemic. We could have and should have done it years ago, but we must now do it during these times. And in doing so, we would also lift Alabama in so many ways – including tens of thousands of jobs, saved hospitals, healthier Alabamians and much more. Most importantly, we would have fewer deaths of Alabamians. We would save lives.”

Newswire : Joe Biden names his new plan for Black People after The Negro National Anthem

The “Lift Every Voice” plan addresses the coronavirus’ disproportionate effect on Black people and other pressing issues.

Written By Bruce C.T. Wright, NewsOne

Battling sexual assault allegations that have recently dogged his presidential candidacy, the presumptive Democratic nominee on Monday made an effort to appeal to the bread and butter of his support base — Black people — by naming his new plan for African Americans after the Negro National Anthem.
Joe Biden‘s “Lift Every Voice” plan addresses some of the stereotypical topics associated with Black people, like gun violence and criminal justice, but also would set aside funding for issues stemming from the disproportionate affect that COVID-19 has had on Black people. “Lift Every Voice And Sing” is the name of what was first a poem before it became a song also known as the Negro National Anthem.
The plan also calls for more funding to help Black-owned businesses. Ninety-five percent of Black-owned businesses were projected to miss out on the Small Business Administration loans provided by the federal stimulus package.
The announcement on Monday seemed to be Biden’s most comprehensive response to how the coronavirus has ravaged the country’s Black communities. It may have also been an effort to deflect from the negative attention his campaign has sustained from the allegations from Tara Reade, Biden’s former senatorial aide who has publicly accused him of sexually assaulting her in the 1990s. In fact, it seems that Biden has spent more time addressing those accusations that he has addressed Black people (except when he said last month that he would not commit to picking a Black woman as his vice-presidential running mate.)
Biden pushed past Bernie Sanders in the early presidential primaries thanks in no small part to Black voters, who turned out for him in a major way, especially across the south. The surge of support forced other candidates to drop out of the race, leaving Biden as the presumptive nominee. As New York magazine’s Intelligencer put it, “Joe Biden Owes It All to African-American Voters.” Monday’s announcement seemed to be his first acknowledgment of that coveted voting bloc since before the coronavirus pandemic forced people to socially distance themselves from one another.
Given that Biden routinely points to his experience with Barack Obama, it follows that the former vice president might name his new plan for the same song that the 44th president once famously sang with Smokey Robinson more than a decade ago. “Lift Every Voice And Sing” also has other significant presidential ties: The poem was originally performed in honor of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday on Feb. 12, 1900, and was later set to music in 1905 by Johnson’s brother John Rosamond. Today, the song is an integral piece of Black patriotism.

Newswire: Coronavirus has made incarceration a potential death sentence

A news Analysis by: Rev Jesse Jackson

( – This week, the New York Times featured the story of how the coronavirus savaged the Federal Correctional Complex in Oakdale, Louisiana. On March 28, Patrick Jones, 49, serving a 27-year sentence for possession of crack cocaine with the intent to distribute, became the first federal inmate to die of the virus.
Barely three weeks later, seven inmates had died, at least 100 inmates and staff members had been infected, with more than 20 hospitalized — and an entire community terrorized. The prisoners died, unreported, unknown, their bodies essentially owned by the federal government that imprisoned them.
According to corrections officers there, the warden was slow to act, saying that “we live in the South and it’s warm here. We won’t have any problems,” a haunting illustration of the dangers of loose rhetoric and tall tales from the president, amplified on social media.
The horrors of the Andover, New Jersey nursing home — with at least 70 residents dead and dozens more testing positive — has dramatized the vulnerability of the elderly in nursing homes, where over 7,000 have died. Our grossly overpopulated prisons and jails are quickly becoming the next centers to be ravaged by the disease.
Cook County Jail, the largest in the country, is already one of the nation’s largest sources of infections, with more confirmed cases than the USS Theodore Roosevelt or the New Rochelle, New York cluster. Four inmates are dead and 215 have tested positive, as have 191 correctional officers and 34 other sheriff’s office employees. One employee just died.
We know the most about Cook County because Sheriff Tom Dart has been the most open. Many are suffering and dying of COVID-19 because sheriff’s offices around the county have not been very open and are not testing. The jail is overwhelmed. The sheriff and jail workers need more hands on deck. For every shift change, the virus is recycled in the community.
A state prison in Ohio is now the largest reported source of coronavirus infection in the United States. I called President Trump and urged him to make testing, tracing and social distancing a priority for those in jails, nursing homes and prisons. The workers, inmates and communities where the workers live all need help.
In Ohio, 2,300 prisoners in three prisons have tested positive. In prisons and jails across the country, inmates locked up for nonviolent crimes or while awaiting trial, and older, vulnerable inmates near the end of their term, among others, sit in terror, fearful that they face a death sentence.
Prisons and jails are virtual petri dishes for the virus. Social distancing is impossible. Soap and water are often not available.
Correctional officers have no choice but to mix with inmates. Many inmates are poor, often with health problems — asthma, diabetes, heart conditions, stress — that make them more vulnerable to the virus.
Prisons and jails have begun — although far too slowly — to react. Cook County Jail has reduced its population from 10,000 to 4,200, partly because of bail reform, some from courts sentencing fewer nonviolent offenders to prison, some from early release. Soap and disinfectants have been made available. Those with symptoms are isolated from the general population. Visitors and volunteers are not allowed, often at great psychic cost to inmates.
Facilities are cleaned more frequently. In some prisons, inmates have been locked in their cells for 22 hours a day to limit human interactions.
But — as is true for the general population — testing is often not available. Too few are tested too seldom. That puts not only prisoners but corrections officers and their families, and the people they interact with at risk.
Not surprisingly, prison uprisings have begun, as terrorized inmates demand protection and more information. Corrections officers have joined in lawsuits to get adequate protective equipment, information, and testing. Too often, it is too little and too late.
There is no defense. Clearly, at the federal and state level, prison officials should speed the release of nonviolent offenders, of the elderly and the vulnerable. Universal testing is an imperative. Prisoners need more access to soap and water. And both prisoners and corrections officials need protective gear — from masks to gloves — and, most of all, information on how to protect themselves.
Donald Trump informed me that he had made his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, the point person on prison reform. The time for aggressive action is long past. Prisons should be made a priority for supplies, for tests, and for early release of as many inmates as possible, particularly the elderly and the vulnerable.
If the pandemic continues to spread through prisons, the toll in lives will soar.
As the pandemic exposes once more, it is a moral outrage that the U.S. locks up more people than any other country, including China. Prisoners are disproportionately poor and people of color, too often victims of institutionalized racism that still puts African American young men at greater risk of being stopped by police, charged, and jailed if convicted.
Even without the virus, that is a disgrace. Now the virus is turning incarceration into a potential death sentence.