Over the past two weeks, we have been reminded just how unprepared in some ways we were for COVID-19. The week before last we learned two inmates at the federal prison in Thomson, Ill., tested positive for the coronavirus. And, on Monday, we learned that 23 prisoners and four staff at the East Moline Correctional Facility tested positive, too.
We already knew that prisons were especially vulnerable, so it’s not that big a surprise that there would be cases here. What is disappointing is that we still are hobbled in dealing with them because of limited testing capacity.
Consider this: The head of the union representing workers at the East Moline facility says that inmates living in the same cell with someone who has tested positive aren’t necessarily being tested themselves.
"Right now we are testing the inmates with symptoms only," said Cody Dornes, president of AFSCME 46.
However, as scientists have made clear, people have spread COVID-19 without exhibiting symptoms. So, why not test all those who have come in contact with a person with COVID-19?
With respect to Thomson, U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., has been told there isn’t the capacity to test all the prisoners who are transferred from one federal facility to another. This was after prisoners had been sent from a federal facility in Chicago, where there were cases, to Thomson, where there were none. Two of those transferred prisoners have now been found to have COVID-19.
Ever since the beginning of this pandemic, there has been clear evidence of a lack of testing capacity, even as some have claimed otherwise.
Illinoisans are fortunate that the number of known infections statewide is falling steadily. In Iowa, the infection rate relative to population is lower than in Illinois, but there isn’t the same decline in the number of cases. The numbers are unfortunately holding steady. This tells us, as if we needed further evidence, that the coronavirus is going to be with us for some time.
In some states, there are spikes in cases, and there is concern about the potential for a second wave this fall.
We took unprecedented steps to buy time to deal with this. But if people who have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 aren’t even being tested for the virus, we have to wonder how prepared are we, really?
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