HealthDay News — In 14 prisons in Massachusetts, increased crowding was associated with increased incidence rates of COVID-19, according to a study published online Aug. 9 in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Abigail I. Leibowitz, from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, and colleagues conducted a longitudinal ecological study among incarcerated persons in 14 Massachusetts state prisons between April 21, 2020, and Jan. 11, 2021, to examine the correlations between prison crowding, community COVID-19 transmission, and incidence rates of COVID-19 in prison. During the study period, there were an average of 6,876 persons incarcerated in the 14 prisons.

The researchers found that during the observation period, the median level of crowding varied from 25 to 155 percent of design capacity. In prisons where the incarcerated population was a larger percentage of the prison’s design capacity, the incidence of COVID-19 was significantly higher (incidence rate ratio [IRR], 1.14 per 10-percentage point difference). In prisons where a higher proportion of incarcerated people were housed in single-cell units, the incidence of COVID-19 was lower (IRR, 0.82 for each 10-percentage point increase in single-cell units). There were consistent associations for COVID-19 transmission in the surrounding county with COVID-19 incidence in prisons (IRR, 1.06 for each increase of 10 cases per 100,000 person-weeks in the community).

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“Interventions that promote prison depopulation and reduce staff exposure should be pursued to mitigate COVID-19 risk among incarcerated persons,” the authors write.

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