Prisons are particularly vulnerable to Covid-19 spreading because of the enclosed spaces and transient population (guards and prisoners) that make them susceptible to airborne viruses.

Brandi Jefferson calls her daughter and brother every day at Broward County Jail, Fort Lauderdale, Florida. She’s been there since March 2020. Jefferson, her 16-year old daughter’s primary caregiver, worries about their long separation. She also asks her how she is doing living with extended family. She missed so many precious moments, including two birthdays, since it had been just her and her daughter for a while.

Jefferson, 37, asks her brother how the rest of the world is reacting to the pandemic. Jefferson lives in constant fear that she will get sick in the confines of jail. She said that she meets new symptomatic people in jail every day and is afraid to assume that they have a cold. Because she doesn’t have the space to separate herself from sick prisoners, every cough is a cause for concern. To protect herself, she began making extra masks from socks and scraps of cloth without regular Covid-19 testing.

“When a new person arrives, I ask the guards: “When are we going get tested?” “When are we going to be tested?” Jefferson stated. Jefferson said.

Jefferson stated that she was only tested once in the 18 months that Jefferson has been in prison.

Prisons are particularly vulnerable to Covid-19 spreading because of the enclosed spaces and transient population (guards and prisoners) that make them susceptible to airborne viruses.

Broward County Jail saw an increase in positive Covid-19 cases as the more contagious delta strain spread. The facility failed to meet the Covid-19 testing requirements, which has been a problem since the outbreak.

In June 2020, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Florida, Disability Rights Florida, sued the Broward County Sheriff’s Office. They claimed that conditions could have contributed to the spread of Covid-19. This included a lack of comprehensive testing both for those entering the jail and those already there.

Nancy Rosenbloom is a senior counsel at the ACLU. She stated that they are not performing comprehensive testing in jail. This is the only way for them to identify who is coming into the jail with Covid. It’s impossible to perform social distancing or all other things in a crowded place where people are not allowed to leave.

In November, the Broward sheriff’s Office and the class of incarcerated persons reached a settlement agreement. A federal court approved it May. The settlement contained directives regarding the testing of incarcerated persons at intake and the quarantining of people who test positive.

The ACLU stated that the jail didn’t initially adhere to the settlement’s conditions. Broward County Jail data sent to the ACLU shows that the jail tested only 173 of the 499 individuals who entered the facility during the week of August. This is approximately 34 percent.

Broward sheriff’s representative said that the jail was meeting or exceeding its settlement agreements and was doing so even before the filing of the lawsuit. The ACLU was sent data from the jail as part of the settlement. It shows that the jail has only recently begun more thorough intake testing. Oct. 21 is the date for a court hearing to enforce settlement conditions.

Benjamin Stevenson, Rosenbloom’s lawyer and co-counsel, is a Florida ACLU of Florida lawyer. He said that the hearing was necessary despite recent intake testing. This is because the pandemic response should have been prompt and continuous.

Stevenson stated that the Covid pandemic had affected everyone and that we all tried to do our best to prevent it from spreading. However, people in prison or jail have to rely on their custodians and wardens to provide care and access.

Strajah Hightower has struggled to access health care and protection from others. She said that it took her seven days to obtain a Covid-19 test after a woman living next to her tested positive for the virus.

Hightower stated that everyone uses the same bathroom and all of us use the same shower. “Basically, we all come into contact with the person who has Covid.

Hightower, 26 years old, is currently in Broward County Jail awaiting her trial. She has been in Broward County Jail since November 2018, awaiting trial. Like Jefferson, she’s experienced the pandemic inside the jail walls. However, she has limited control over how safe she feels.

She claimed that waiting more than seven days for a Covid-19 testing resulted in panic attacks and anxiety. Hightower repeatedly asked the guards for a test, as well as to quarantine her. She was assured that they would soon provide one. She said that she was concerned about the risk of being in close contact with people for seven days and not having a test.

“It’s a doomsday scenario if you introduce the Delta variant and start a chain spread,” Dr. Alan Bulbin of New York’s St. Francis Hospital, director of infectious disease.

Although jails are known as “hotbeds of infected”, there is not much recourse to protect incarcerated persons from illness. Aaron Littman is a UCLA clinical teaching fellow and deputy director of UCLA’s Covid Behind Bars Data Project.

Although there have been concerns regarding flu outbreaks and other diseases spreading before Covid-19 was established, most jails are county-run. Health care protocols vary greatly and are subject to limited state regulation. Because jails are not regulated in terms of health care protocol, delays in testing, and other measures can occur.

Littman, who is currently investigating the death of prisoners in Covid-19 jail, and the Broward sheriff’s Office, are preparing for their Oct. 21 court hearing. It is noteworthy that this jail is now regulated by the county and is available for public inspection so the court and the public can see the effects of trying to test inside the jail.

Littman stated that “we really don’t know much about what’s going on in jails in general” because each one is their little fiefdom. “These are places that we don’t know much about other than through litigation.”