• Chris Cotton

COVID and Incarceration

I'm guessing by now everyone reading this has experienced some form of covid quarantine or protocol. For most of 2020 and well into 2021 it was a way of life. As vaccines and boosters became the norm we could thankfully return to normal. Whatever normal is or was. Because of my volunteer work as a high school football coach, leading small groups, and now going in our jail to teach, I have had more than my fair share of covid exposures. Thankfully my diligence, vaccinations, booster, and immune system somehow kept the virus at bay through each exposure, close contact, and sniffle, headache, and fever. Well, until a little over a week ago that is.


Now I am among those who have had covid and thankfully survived it. The vaccine, booster, and prescription for Paxlovid Doctor Gatewood called in for me have me back on my feet. I am taking precautions to mask when indoors around others and have only some lingering fatigue as proof I was even sick. My wife however, also vaccinated, is still fighting a horrible cough and chest congestion; this is day 9 for her. There is one of the confounding and confusing things about covid. I am around lots more people on a daily basis than she, she takes much better care of herself than I, I have asthma, and I am either 6 or 7 inches too short for my weight or I am far too heavy. Yet, I'm back to my routine and she is not. The only difference is I got the booster. But as I speak to others who have had this particular variant lately there doesn't seem to be correlation between being boosted and lessening the effects.


This week I was able to resume teaching my Free Writers and WAIT classes in the jail. Our jail was locked down two weeks ago for a covid outbreak and there are still a fair amount of active cases in there. So, I asked the guys in my classes how they quarantined or distanced. Of my four classes that question was met with a combination of laughter and words I can't type here - or shouldn't. Frankly it is naive of me to think the consideration our workplaces and schools show for dealing with this would be extended to inmates. My daughter was incarcerated during the first stages of the pandemic, so I know how it's handled. Bluntly, it isn't. If someone is very sick he or she will be put in "lock". Typically the response is to have everyone ride it out until it passes. Or more accurately until it, the virus, passes around the blocks and moves on. Reporting by many states has stopped with regards to infection rates and vaccination rates in general, but that information was even harder to find for incarcerated individuals. Reports the Prison Project found indicate that the percentage of inmates who are vaccinated is anywhere from 22% to 55%. Despite being disproportionately affected and infected, vaccination rates still lag behind the community's numbers by quite a bit. What it comes down to is a lack of prioritizing this portion of the population.


That may make sense to folks who refer to incarcerated people as "those people" (see my previous post). But think about this. Who serves, guards, and takes care of "those people"? We're your neighbors, your pastors, your coaches, your friends, your golf buddies, your tennis partners, your travel companions. We're asking those folks to go among a group of people who are higher risk and then come back into the community. And we're going to have 90% of county jail inmates with us soon too. So caring what happens in there with regards to covid spread really is a community issue and not just a "them" issue.

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