Impact of COVID-19 on Correctional and Detention Facilities

The CDC advises that administrators of correctional and detention facilities implement measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Prevention measures are crucial to control and track the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and protect incarcerated and detained persons, staff members, and the communities that they return to, according to a recently published Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

In the United States, approximately 5000 correctional and detention facilities house an estimated 2.1 million adults on any given day. Due to the high populations, close living quarters, limited resources, transportation and introduction of incarcerated or detained persons, and daily entry and exit of staff members and visitors, these facilities face significant challenges in controlling the spread of highly infectious diseases and pathogens, including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. To protect incarcerated and detained persons, as well as staff members and the communities to which they return, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises the prompt identification of COVID-19 cases and the consistent application of prevention measures, which include symptom screening and quarantine.

The CDC requested aggregate surveillance data from 54 state and territorial health department jurisdictions to estimate the prevalence of COVID-19 in US correctional and detention facilities. The ensuing report provides the first documentation of the number of reported laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 in these facilities.

As of April 21, 2020, 37 (69%) jurisdictions provided surveillance data. Of these, 32 (86%) jurisdictions that included 420 facilities reported at least 1 laboratory-confirmed case of COVID-19 among either incarcerated or detained persons or staff members: 4893 cases of COVID-19 were reported among incarcerated or detained persons and 2778 cases of COVID-19 were reported among staff members. Among incarcerated or detained persons with COVID-19, 491 (10%) were hospitalized and 88 (2%) died. Among the staff members with COVID-19, 79 (3%) were hospitalized and 15 (1%) died. In total, 221 (53%) affected facilities reported cases only among staff members. Data on the number of people tested or the number of negative test results were not requested for this report.

The findings in this report do have limitations, the first of which is that these results are not representative of the entire United States as only 69% of jurisdictions reported data, and some jurisdictions only received data from state prisons and not local jails or federal or privately operated facilities. An additional limitation is that many facilities do not provide testing to staff members; therefore, data from staff members are self-reported.

Overall, the report authors conclude that the “CDC recommends that facility administrators, with the support of local health departments and partners, prepare for potential SARS-CoV-2 transmission, implement prevention measures, and follow guidance for the management of suspected and confirmed COVID-19 cases to prevent further transmission.”


Wallace M, Hagan L, Curran KG, et al. COVID-19 in correctional and detention facilities — United States, February-April 2020. Morbid Mortal Wkly Rep (MMWR). 2020;69(19):587-590.