August 19, 2020
Scientists estimate that between 50 - 70 percent of a given population needs to be protected against a virus, whether by vaccine or by having contacted the virus and developed antibodies, in order for the population as a whole to be free from large outbreaks. Since the government has yet to approve a vaccine, this threshold, known as "herd immunity," may be what ultimately ends this pandemic. According to the New York Times, parts of some densely populated cities such as London, Mumbai, and NYC that had record numbers of COVID cases may have already reached the threshold and are on the path to recovery. Well, as someone who's also living in a densely populated environment that was hit hard by this virus and is recovering, I'm witnessing firsthand how herd immunity works.
Over the past two months, the majority of the prisoners at this institution were infected with COVID (editor’s emphasis). The unsatisfactory manner with which this pandemic was handled here - which I expounded upon in previous essays - made a large outbreak inevitable. We were all tested around May or June (before the outbreak exploded), and only a handful of those tests came back positive. However, once those cases began spreading, the virus quickly swept through the entire institution. The problem is that, barring a few serious cases, most of us were never retested, which of course means we were never officially diagnosed with COVID in the institution's records. But, documented or not, I know for a fact that there were hundreds of positive cases here because almost everyone got sick and displayed about two weeks' worth of the exact same symptoms, including: chest and nasal congestion; muscle and bone aches; simultaneous hot flashes and chills; fever, fatigue, and COVID's ultimate telltale signs, loss of taste and smell. Instead of retesting everyone, the medical staff lazily attempted to identify infected offenders by coming into each housing unit and doing daily temperature checks.
To call this method ineffective would be the understatement of the century. I say this because out of all the offenders in my housing unit who displayed obvious coronavirus symptoms, no one's temperature results ever came back high enough for the medical staff to suspect them of being infected. Not a single person! Again, I personally know dozens of offenders in my housing unit who had the virus through the weeks they were having their temperatures checked, yet they were cleared by the nurses every day. Sometimes I can't help but wonder if the true results of our temperature checks weren't being suppressed. Of the 80 offenders in my housing unit (at least 50 of whom I know were infected), it's simply not possible that no one has tested for a fever. I also find it hard to believe that this professionally trained medical staff were oblivious to the outbreak. It makes more sense (to me at least) that a blind eye was being turned to the true number of COVID cases here. It wouldn't be the first time a jail or prison conspired to keep unsavory information concealed.
The good news is that the institution has begun slowly phasing back into normal operations. We are still on "modified lockdown," but some of the offender movement restrictions have been lifted. We are allowed to go outside onto the recreation yards again. Words can't describe how good it feels to be able to breathe fresh air and feel the warmth of the sun on your skin after having been locked in a building for months. The dining hall has also been reopened. We're allowed to go to there for our meals again instead of having them brought to us.
Also, of note is the new class of officer trainees who recently arrived at the institution. To my knowledge, this is the first new class to be hired since the institution was placed on modified lockdown in April. The fact that the administration is willing to allow new people on the grounds is a very good sign. Family visitation has been on pause for months, and there's been no education or vocational classes due to the instructors not being here. Hopefully those will be changing soon.
As I've stated before, prison is a microcosm of the macrocosmic free world, so these changes are our "phase 1" of returning to normal. This move gives further credence to my theory that the widespread outbreak was in fact known by the administration, and that they also know that at this point no further harm can come by "reopening the institution," so to speak. My feelings are ambiguous about this. On one hand, I'm aware that had more safety measures been taken, we may not have reached the threshold so quickly. But on the other hand, it was also extremely irresponsible of the administration to have been so lax as the outbreak spread throughout the prison. Lives could've been lost. For now, I'm just glad this storm has passed, and brighter days are ahead. I may not like how we got here, but the important thing is that we're here.