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COVID-19 is engulfing prisons like San Quentin and it shows how letting the virus spread unchecked may only accelerate the death count and prolong the illness for those who manage to survive it

Business Insider logo Business Insider 8/12/2020 salarshani@businessinsider.com (Sarah Al-Arshani)
A view of a new emergency care facility that was erected to treat inmates infected with COVID-19 at San Quentin State Prison on July 08, 2020 in San Quentin, California. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images © Justin Sullivan/Getty Images A view of a new emergency care facility that was erected to treat inmates infected with COVID-19 at San Quentin State Prison on July 08, 2020 in San Quentin, California. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
  • The coronavirus has run rampant in prisons, especially San Quentin State Prison in the Bay Area, and the unchecked spread may suggest that herd immunity without a vaccine is highly unlikely, The Los Angeles Times reported. 
  • At least 2,200 cases have been reported out of the 3,260 people at the facility, with 25 deaths. 
  • The death rate is equivalent to about 767 people dying out of every 100,000 people, which if applied to the entire US would mean 2.5 million deaths. 
  • Herd immunity for COVID-19 requires immunity from 40% to 70% of the population, that means at least 32,500,000 people have to be immune. 
  • Only 1.5% of the US has tested positive for coronavirus so far.
  • Of the more than 5 million cases, over 164,000 have died. 

The coronavirus has run rampant in prisons, especially San Quentin, where, as of Monday, 2,200 cases had been reported out of the 3,260 people at the facility; there have been 25 reported deaths. 

The Los Angeles Times reported that the unchecked spread of the coronavirus in San Quentin mirrors how some proposed we deal with the virus, by allowing as many members of the population to catch it for the sake of creating herd immunity. 

However, while more than two-thirds of the prison population may have caught the virus, the spread has only meant prolonged illness and unnecessary death, the LA Times said.

The facility's death rate is equivalent to about 767 people dying out of every 100,000 people, the LA Times reported. By contrast, the death rate in the US as a whole is around 49.5 people for every 100,000. As of Tuesday, more than 164,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the US and over 5 million have been infected. 

If the death rate from San Quentin was to be mirrored nationally it would equate to 2.5 million people dying from COVID-19. 

Michael Kirkpatrick a former inmate who was released and tested positive for the virus told the LA Times that only about five cells in his tier of 50 cells didn't have people who were infected with the virus. 

"You couldn't help but get it — you're staying in a place with no ventilation," he told the LA Times. 

A high death rate is a major consequence to polices that support an unchecked spread to try and reach herd immunity, which is when a large enough percentage of a population is immune to a pathogen so that it cannot spread widely. In order for there to be herd immunity somewhere between 40% to 70% of the population would need to be immune to the coronavirus for it to be the case, Business Insider previously reported. 

Only 5,139,920 have been infected across the US, which is only 1.5% of the population. In order to get anywhere close to heard immunity at least 132,500,000 people have to be immune to the virus, which means they have to be exposed. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the US government's top infectious diseases expert, has said that the rate of exposure should not just come from people being infected and recovering but also vaccinations, the LA Times reported. 

The situation playing out in prison isn't the only indicator that herd immunity may not be achieved anytime soon, especially without a vaccine. 

A major Spanish study last month found that antibodies to the coronavirus disappeared after just a few weeks in some patients, Business Insider previously reported. The study found that only 5% of those tested across Spain maintained antibodies to the virus and that 4% of people who had tested positive for coronavirus antibodies in the first round of testing didn't test positive for the antibodies a week later. 


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