One Chicago jail is linked with nearly 16% of COVID-19 cases in the city and in Illinois, a new study finds.
The researchers said their findings show that U.S. arrest and jailing practices pose a major public health risk during the pandemic and need to change, especially during anti-racism protests across the country.
The study authors noted that the new coronavirus has spread quickly through jails and prisons across the United States, and Cook County Jail in Chicago has been a hotspot.
For the study, researchers analyzed the link between practices at Cook County jail and COVID-19 cases in the community.
The time period that suspects spend in jail between arrest and court appearances was tied to 15.9% of documented COVID-19 cases in Chicago and 15.7% of those in Illinois.
Between Feb. 1 and April 19, each person cycled through Cook County jails spread COVID-19 to an average of about 2.2 others, according to the study, which was recently published in the journal Health Affairs.
“This is the first empirical study to show that American policing practices pose an enormous public health risk during the pandemic,” said lead author Eric Reinhart, a medical student at the University of Chicago. “It is becoming clear that policing and jailing practices are driving COVID-19 spread in American communities.”
It’s especially important to be aware of this link as anti-racism protests lead to thousands of arrests nationwide, the authors said in a news release from the University of Chicago Medical Center.
“The implications of this research are obvious: as arrested individuals are processed, the criminal justice system is multiplying COVID-19 cases by forcibly turning people into potential disease vectors for their families, neighbors and, ultimately, the general public,” Reinhart warned.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on COVID-19.