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Cartwright Leads Effort to Limit COVID-19 Spread in Federal Prisons

Mar 23, 2020
Press Release

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Representative Matt Cartwright (PA-08) today led 11 of his colleagues in sending a letter to Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) Director Michael Carvajal and Assistant Director Andre Matevousian urging the bureau to ensure stronger safeguards are in place to limit the spread of COVID-19 among inmates and BOP staff.

In the letter, Cartwright and his colleagues raise the concern that current BOP policy for inmate transfers fails to account for the virus’ potential to be spread by people who are not showing symptoms. The lawmakers highlighted that the first confirmed COVID-19 case in the BOP system was an inmate transferred to Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn who presented symptoms three days after arriving at the facility. They ask for further inmate transfers to be halted until additional precautions are taken.

“With the large population of inmates housed in each BOP facility, every precaution must be taken, and every piece of guidance from medical experts and the CDC must be followed, to prevent an outbreak of COVID-19 due to the spread of the virus from asymptomatic individuals. The current policy simply does not account for this danger,” Rep. Cartwright and 11 of his colleagues wrote in the letter. “As such, we urge you to immediately amend the BOP policy on inmate transfers to include COVID-19 testing for every inmate before he or she is transferred. Additionally, we urge you to halt any further inmate transfers until these additional safeguards are implemented.”

The letter was co-signed by Representatives Judy Chu (CA), Sylvia Garcia (TX), Jahana Hayes (CT), Hank Johnson (GA), Stephen Lynch (MA), Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA), Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (VA), Jose E. Serrano (NY), Terri A. Sewell (AL), Maxine Waters (CA) and Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ)

Read the letter below or here.

 

March 23, 2020
Director Michael Carvajal
Assistant Director Andre Matevousian
Federal Bureau of Prisons
320 First St., NW
Washington, DC 20534

Dear Director Carvajal & Assistant Director Matevousian,

I am writing to express my urgent concern regarding the March 20, 2020, policy the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) issued on inmate transfers during the ongoing pandemic of COVID-19. This policy fails to enact adequate safeguards against the spread of this virus both among the inmate population as well as the staff of BOP.

Specifically, the BOP policy put into place on March 20, 2020, states:
All inmates are being authorized for movements from all facilities under the following conditions: Inmates must have been in BOP custody for greater than 14 days; Perform an exit screening for COVID-19 symptoms (fever, cough, shortness of breath and temperature). If the inmate has no symptoms and a temperature less than 100.4 degrees F, the inmate will be transferred; If the inmate has COVID-19 symptoms, or temperature greater than 100.4 degrees F, they will not be transferred and will instead be immediately placed in isolation.

However, there have been reports from across the country of asymptomatic spread of the virus, and numerous experts have warned of the danger of asymptomatic spread. Michael Osterholm, Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota stated, "We now know that asymptomatic transmission likely [plays] an important role in spreading this virus," and added that it's "absolutely clear" that asymptomatic infection "surely can fuel a pandemic like this in a way that's going to make it very difficult to control."

Additionally, Dr. William Schaffner, a professor at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and longtime adviser to the CDC, noted, “Asymptomatic and mildly symptomatic transmission are a major factor in transmission for COVID-19. They're going to be the drivers of spread in the community."

Furthermore, in the March 20, 2020, COVID-19 Taskforce briefing, Dr. Anthony Fauci confirmed “there is certainly some degree of asymptomatic transmissibility.” Even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) own guidance warns of this danger stating, “Some spread might be possible before people show symptoms; there have been reports of this occurring with this new coronavirus, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.”

In fact, on March 22, 2020, we saw this exact scenario play out with the report of the first case of COVID-19 in the BOP system confirmed at Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn. That inmate presented no symptoms upon arrival on that facility, and then, after three days of interacting with other inmates and staff, he complained of chest pains, which resulted in testing and a subsequent positive test for COVID-19.

With the large population of inmates housed in each BOP facility, every precaution must be taken, and every piece of guidance from medical experts and the CDC must be followed, to prevent an outbreak of COVID-19 due to the spread of the virus from asymptomatic individuals. The current policy simply does not account for this danger. As such, I urge you to immediately amend the BOP policy on inmate transfers to include COVID-19 testing for every inmate before he or she is transferred. Additionally, I urge you to halt any further inmate transfers until these additional safeguards are implemented.

The BOP performs an incredibly important and sensitive function in our society. Its facilities must function at optimal efficiency and maintain inmate and staff safety. Thank you for your attention to this issue. We look forward to your response on COVID-19 safeguards, and I am committed to continuing to work with the BOP to ensure there are the necessary number of tests available.

 

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