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Coronavirus sweeping through massive US prison population

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AFP

By AFP
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A massive wave of coronavirus infections is blasting through the world’s largest prison population in the United States even as officials begin opening up their economies, saying the disease has plateaued.

One prison in Marion, Ohio has become the most intensely infected institution across the country, with more than 80 percent of its nearly 2,500 inmates, and 175 staff on top of that, testing positive for Covid-19.

Coronavirus deaths are on the increase in jails and penitentiaries across the country, with officials having few options — they are unable to force adequate distancing in crowded cells and facing shortages of medical personnel and personal protective gear everywhere.

The threat to the 2.3 million-strong US prison population was seen last week in the death of Andrea Circle Bear, a 30-year-old native American woman from South Dakota.

Pregnant when she was placed in a Texas federal prison in March on drug charges, she soon became sick with the disease and was placed on a ventilator, and gave birth by C-section.

She remained on the ventilator and died weeks later.

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Riots over inadequate protection and slow responses by prison authorities have already taken place in prisons in Washington state and Kansas.

COVID-19 outbreaks among prison officers meanwhile have made the institutions even harder to manage.

At the understaffed, undersupplied Lansing Correctional Facility in Kansas on Thursday, 15-year prison guard David Carter resigned, saying it was better to go without pay than risk his health and that of his family.

“I can no longer be associated with a facility that is a ticking time bomb,” he said in a resignation letter.

The Marion prison outbreak is believed only the tip of the iceberg.

Because of the hodge-podge of prison management — federal, state, and local authorities have their own, and many are run by for-profit private companies — testing and reporting has been haphazard.

Covid Prison Data, a group of university criminal justice and data experts, says that based on public reports, 13,436 inmates and 5,312 corrections staff nationwide have tested positive for coronavirus.

But many states, and the federal penitentiary system, have done only a small amount of testing. Five of the 50 states don’t even report data.

Prisons occupied eight spaces on The New York Times’ compilation of the top 10 infected institutions, with the Marion Correctional Institution at the top.

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The reasons are clear: prison populations are more dense and harder to separate than nursing homes and cruise ships, two institutions hit hardest by the disease.

Thay also operate at lower levels of hygiene, and a large number of inmates have preexisting conditions.

And, until now, they have been low priority for officials battling the pandemic.

NO OPTION TO CLOSE PRISONS

Numbers released this past week show the depth of the problem.

The federal Bureau of Prisons, which has 152,000 inmates and 36,000 staff, found outbreaks in more than half of its 122 facilities.

Less than 3,000 tests have been administered, however, with 1,842 prisoners and 343 staff testing positive, and 36 inmate deaths.

On Thursday alone the bureau reported three deaths at the low security Terminal Island prison near Los Angeles, where some 60 percent of the roughly 1,050 inmate population has registered positive.

Bureau of Prisons Director Michael Carvajal complained of a shortage of testing supplies, and said that quarantining remains difficult.

“We don’t have the option to close our doors, or pick who or when someone is sent to our custody,” he said on Wednesday.

The situation is even less clear in state prisons, which have the bulk of the country’s inmate population.

Some states like Ohio are now moving quickly with testing and are releasing data. Others are doing little.

One indicator of the potential extent: CoreCivic, a private company which operates dozens of prisons nationwide, tested all the 2,725 inmates and staff at its Trousdale Turner facility in Tennessee, and found 1,299 inmates and 50 staff positive, nearly all without symptoms.

Prison advocacy groups say that little has been done at the state and federal level to release prisoners who are non-violent or whose terms were near completion, which could lessen their danger of infection and create more space in the facilities.

Out of more than 10,000 in Kansas prisons, “Only six inmates have been released. Six,” said public defender Heather Cessna.

Brian Miller, an officer at the Marion prison, warned this week that the situation would only worsen.

Miller — struggling to speak as he recovers from his own coronavirus bout — told a conference call that, with so many out sick, they do not have enough staff to clean the facility and manage the inmates.

The prisons are only offering hazard pay of an extra $1.85 an hours — “less than Starbucks,” he noted.

“Things are beyond breaking point at this facility,” he said. “Right now it’s hell.”

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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard

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Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.

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However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard

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President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow

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Drastic life changes affecting mental health

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Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.

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Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.

Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.

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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.

In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020.  It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.

A study by Dr. Habil Otanga,  a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says  that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.

KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.

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Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.

As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.

“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”

Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.

“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.

Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.

“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”

Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.

“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.

Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.

Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.

She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.

Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.

“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added

Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.

“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and  also engage in   reading that would  help expand their knowledge.

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