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For People Living in Prisons and Jails

For People Living in Prisons and Jails

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is caused by a virus called SARS-CoV-2. This virus spreads easily from person-to-person. It is important to protect yourself from getting COVID-19 because it can make you very sick.*

Living in prisons and jails puts you at higher risk for getting COVID-19 because:
  • It may be hard to stay at least 6 feet away (2 arm lengths) from other people.
  • There may not be enough space to keep people with COVID-19 away from others.
  • You may be sharing space with someone who has the virus and does not know it, because they are not coughing or showing other symptoms.
  • Staff or visitors may have the virus and not know it.

About COVID-19

  • Many people who have COVID-19 do not feel sick.
  • For those who do feel sick, some signs and symptoms of COVID-19 include:

    Feeling tired
    Having a hard time breathing
    Pain in the head or body

    New loss of taste or smell
    Sore throat
    Stuffy or runny nose

How COVID-19 Spreads

The virus spreads when a person with COVID-19 breathes, coughs, sneezes, talks, or sings within 6 feet of other people.

  • Droplets are formed when you breathe. These droplets can contain the virus. If people nearby breathe in the droplets, then they can get infected.
  • Droplets can stay in the air for minutes to hours. Droplets can also infect someone more than 6 feet away.
  • Less commonly, people may get infected by the virus by touching something with the virus on it and then touching their mouth, nose, or eyes.

 People at Risk For COVID-19

If you have any of these health issues, it is more important than ever to protect yourself and get the COVID-19 vaccine when it is available to you.

Protect Yourself and Others

  • Try to stay at least 6 feet (2 arm lengths) from others, especially people from a different housing unit.
    • Other times where you should try to distance yourself include:
      • Recreation, especially when inside
      • Mealtime (if in a dining area with people from other units)
      • Walking in hallways
  • Wear a mask that covers your nose and mouth, especially when around staff or people from a different housing unit.
  • Always wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds**:
    • After touching your mask
    • Before touching your face
    • After coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose
    • After using the bathroom
    • Before eating
    • Before and after making food
    • Before taking medicine

Common Spaces

  • Avoid sharing forks, spoons, dishes, and cups.
  • Go outside for your recreation time if you can
  • Sleep head to foot if there is more than one bed in a room. This gives you more space between your face and others around you.
  • If visitors are allowed, visitors will be screened for COVID-19 and asked to wear a mask.
    • Visitors cannot enter the building if they do not clear the screening process (for example, a temperature check), or if they refuse to be screened.

If You Were Near Someone with COVID-19

  • You may be tested for the virus even if you do not feel sick.
  • You will be sent to an area away from others. This is called quarantine.
    • Quarantine separates people who were exposed to COVID-19 to see if they become sick.
    • This room may be a single cell or a large area with others.
    • Quarantine helps protect you from getting or spreading the virus to others.

What to Do if You Feel Sick

  • Tell a correctional officer or staff member if you feel sick so you can get medical care.
  • You may be sent to an area by yourself. This is called medical isolation.
    • Medical isolation separates people who may have COVID-19 from people who are not sick. This is so you don’t get others sick.
    • This room may be a single cell or a large area with others who are also sick.
    • Medical isolation is not to punish you.
  • You may be tested for COVID-19.
    • If your test is positive, showing you have COVID-19, you will need to stay in medical isolation for at least 10 days.
    • If your test is negative, but you were near someone with COVID-19, you may be sent to a quarantine area for 14 days to see if you develop COVID-19.
      • A negative test result means that you probably did not have COVID-19 at the time of testing or that it was too early in your infection.
      • You could be exposed to COVID-19 after being tested.
      • You may be tested again.


*This webpage contains recommendations for people in prisons and jails. CDC acknowledges it may be difficult to stay 6 feet apart and avoid crowds in these settings.

** If available, use alcohol-based hand rub when soap and water are not immediately available.