Rapid Spread of SARS-CoV-2 in a State Prison After Introduction by Newly Transferred Incarcerated Persons - Wisconsin, August 14-October 22, 2020

MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2021 Apr 2;70(13):478-482. doi: 10.15585/mmwr.mm7013a4.


SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, can spread rapidly in prisons and can be introduced by staff members and newly transferred incarcerated persons (1,2). On September 28, 2020, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) contacted CDC to report a COVID-19 outbreak in a state prison (prison A). During October 6-20, a CDC team investigated the outbreak, which began with 12 cases detected from specimens collected during August 17-24 from incarcerated persons housed within the same unit, 10 of whom were transferred together on August 13 and under quarantine following prison intake procedures (intake quarantine). Potentially exposed persons within the unit began a 14-day group quarantine on August 25. However, quarantine was not restarted after quarantined persons were potentially exposed to incarcerated persons with COVID-19 who were moved to the unit. During the subsequent 8 weeks (August 14-October 22), 869 (79.4%) of 1,095 incarcerated persons and 69 (22.6%) of 305 staff members at prison A received positive test results for SARS-CoV-2. Whole genome sequencing (WGS) of specimens from 172 cases among incarcerated persons showed that all clustered in the same lineage; this finding, along with others, demonstrated that facility spread originated with the transferred cohort. To effectively implement a cohorted quarantine, which is a harm reduction strategy for correctional settings with limited space, CDC's interim guidance recommendation is to serial test cohorts, restarting the 14-day quarantine period when a new case is identified (3). Implementing more effective intake quarantine procedures and available mitigation measures, including vaccination, among incarcerated persons is important to controlling transmission in prisons. Understanding and addressing the challenges faced by correctional facilities to implement medical isolation and quarantine can help reduce and prevent outbreaks.

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19 / epidemiology*
  • COVID-19 / prevention & control
  • COVID-19 / transmission*
  • COVID-19 Testing
  • Disease Outbreaks*
  • Humans
  • Prisoners / statistics & numerical data*
  • Prisons*
  • Quarantine
  • SARS-CoV-2 / isolation & purification
  • Wisconsin / epidemiology