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Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

U.S. prison and detention systems are dangerously susceptible to the coronavirus, experts say.

Why it matters: Immigration and corrections systems around the nation are taking steps to limit the spread of COVID-19 — but they face several systemic challenges.

  • "I'm confident that communities that have sustained spread of coronavirus outside the walls of jails and prisons will also have coronavirus inside those walls," Homer Venters, former chief medical officer of New York City jails, told Axios.

Driving the news: Visits by family members, friends and attorneys to people held in federal prisons are being halted for 30 days, the AP first reported.

  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has suspended social visits to immigrants in its custody.
  • Republican and Democratic lawmakers have sent letters to administration officials asking them to provide information about how they are preparing immigrant detention centers as well as prisons as the coronavirus spreads.

The big picture: Detention and correctional spaces are the "perfect environment for the spread of COVID-19," Leonard Rubenstein, a senior scientist at Johns Hopkins who has studied infectious diseases in prisons, told Axios.

  • Prisons, jails and detentions are confined spaces, and often overcrowded.
"So when we talk about social distancing, it's almost impossible in prisons unless you have complete lockdown — basically, put everybody in solitary confinement."
— Leonard Rubenstein
  • They often have poor sanitary conditions. Even access to proper hand washing isn't always available, the experts said. Hand sanitizers are often considered contraband in prison because they can contain alcohol.
  • The U.S. incarcerated population has a surging number of elderly people who are more susceptible to severe symptoms if infected by the coronavirus.

"The people that we have put into our 5,000 county jails, state and federal prisons, and immigration detention centers are disproportionately people of color, but also people with lots of health problems," Venters added.

  • There has been recent controversy over immigration officials not giving flu shots to migrants after being initially encountered at the border and taken into custody.
  • Some federal union officials are concerned the spread of coronavirus along with understaffing could lead to a rare federal prison lockdown — something that hasn't been done since 1995, according to Kaiser Health News. Venters warned that punitive actions such as putting prisoner's in lockdown could actually make matters worse.
  • "The mitigation for this virus or any outbreak is not simply to lock people away in cells and not let them out. That's not sustainable," he said. "It's creating health risks for the people in those cells."

The latest: All visits, tours and events at Washington state correction facilities are on hold as screening processes are being set up, according to a press release.

  • In New York City, as of Thursday, visitors must first have their temperature taken and fill out a form to determine if they are at risk of having the virus, the city's department of corrections told Axios. Some visitors may also have to see a medical professional as part of screening.
  • NYC's corrections department is working with a company that oversees the city's correctional health care "to identify and evaluate detainees with potential symptoms and refer them for testing as necessary," the deputy commissioner for public information, Peter Thorne, told Axios in a statement.
  • On Monday, Republican Ohio Governor Mike DeWine also announced an end to prison visitation "for the time being."
  • California has also stopped all normal visits to inmates in the state‘s prisons.

On the immigration front, Health and Human Services (HHS) is no longer placing migrant minors who cross the border without their parents in shelters located in California or Washington state, a spokesperson confirmed to Axios. As of March 11, there had been no suspected or confirmed cases reported.

  • ICE has had four of its nearly 38,000 current immigrant detainees meet the criteria for coronavirus testing as of March 3, the agency told Axios. There had been no confirmed cases as of March 12.
  • ICE also uses cohorting — the grouping together of immigrants with symptoms — in detention as an alternative to self-monitoring at home to prevent spreading the virus.

What to watch: The Iranian government has temporarily released 70,000 prisoners to prevent coronavirus infections from spreading, as Reuters has reported.

Go deeper

Republican Sen. Sasse slams Nebraska GOP for "weird worship" of Trump after state party rebuke

Sen. Ben Sasse, (R-Neb.) Photo: Andrew Harnik - Pool/Getty Images

The Nebraska Republican Party on Saturday formally "rebuked" Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) for his vote to impeach former President Trump earlier this year, though it stopped short of a formal censure, CNN reports.

Why it matters: Sasse is the latest among a slate of Republicans who have faced some sort of punishment from their state party apparatus after voting to impeach the former president. The senator responded statement Saturday, per the Omaha World-Herald, saying "most Nebraskans don't think politics should be about the weird worship of one dude."

Cuomo barraged by fellow Dems after second harassment accusation

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo faced a barrage of criticism from fellow Democrats after The New York Times reported that the second former aide in four days had accused him of sexual harassment.

Why it matters: Cuomo had faced a revolt from legislators for his handling of nursing-home deaths from COVID. Now, the scandal is acutely personal, with obviously grave political risk.

3 hours ago - Health

Fauci: Children "very likely" to get COVID vaccine at start of 2022

NIAID Director Anthony Fauci. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Children under age 12 will "very likely" be able to get vaccinated for coronavirus at the "earliest the end of the year, and very likely the first quarter of 2022," NIAID Director Anthony Fauci told "Meet the Press" Sunday.

Why it matters: Children generally aren't at risk of serious coronavirus infections, but vaccinating them will be key to protecting the adults around them and, eventually, reaching herd immunity, writes Axios' Caitlin Owens.