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States Release Some Inmates As Coronavirus Spreads in Prisons Across the U.S.

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  • Coronavirus outbreaks are spreading in jails and prisons across America.
  • Multiple states and federal prisons have reported cases, the worst of which are in New York City, where 52 inmates and 30 staffers have tested positive.
  • At least a dozen states are releasing prisoners, but advocates and lawmakers say not enough is being done at the federal level, and are calling on the Trump administration to act.

Coronavirus Spreads in Jails and Prisons

Concerns over the growing threat of coronavirus outbreaks among incarcerated populations have increased in the last week as confirmed cases appeared in jails and prisons all over the country.

Multiple states are reporting that both inmates and staff members have tested positive for the coronavirus, including Texas, Florida, New Jersey, and South Dakota.

In South Dakota specifically, nine inmates broke out of a jail after a case was confirmed. All of the inmates have reportedly been returned.

Several facilities in California have also reported cases, prompting Gov. Gavin Newsom to stop state prison intake and transfers for 30 days.

The place hit the hardest by far is New York City, where it was reported Tuesday that 52 inmates and 30 staffers in multiple jails tested positive.

On Saturday, the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) confirmed that the first federal inmate had the coronavirus. According to their website, a total of three inmates and three workers have now tested positive.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) also reported the first coronavirus case at a migrant detention facility on Tuesday.

Government Response

At least a dozen states have responded to the growing crisis by releasing hundreds of inmates. 

New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio said Tuesday that he will release 300 prisoners in the city and is looking to raise that number to 1,000. The biggest effort so far seems to be New Jersey, where around 1,000 prisoners are set to be released after the state’s chief justice signed an order Sunday.

Meanwhile, other facilities have taken efforts to limit interaction by stopping non-medical visits, restricting inmate activities, and taking other precautions.

At the federal level, the BOP announced Tuesday that it was imposing a mandatory 14-day quarantine for all new inmates going into any of its facilities.

Push For Increased Federal Effort

But many lawmakers and advocacy groups feel that these efforts will fall short, and are calling on President Donald Trump and his administration to act.

On Monday a bipartisan group of 14 senators wrote a letter to Attorney General William Barr and BOP Director Michael Carvajal urging them to release vulnerable inmates or transfer them to home confinement.

The Department of Justice (DOJ), for its part, has asked Congress for the ability to release low-risk offenders to home confinement amid the pandemic. 

At the same time, the DOJ also asked Congress to give Barr the power to detain people indefinitely while they wait trials and hearings delayed because of the virus, a move that would keep inmates in custody longer. 

Separately, nine advocacy groups wrote a letter to President Trump Tuesday, calling on him to use his clemency power to commute the sentences of inmates that are at high risk from the virus and those eligible for compassionate release.

When asked during a press conference on Sunday if he is considering an executive order to free elderly nonviolent offenders from federal prison, Trump seemed to be open to the idea.

“We have been asked about that and we’re going to take a look at it,” he said.

It’s a bit of a problem. But when we talk about totally nonviolent — we’re talking about these are ‘totally nonviolent prisoners.’ We are actually looking at that, yes.” 

See what others are saying: (NPR) (The Washington Post) (The New York Post)

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Florida Breaks Its Record for New Daily COVID-19 Cases and Hospitalizations

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The Sunshine State now accounts for 20% of all new COVID-19 cases nationwide.


Florida Becomes COVID Epicenter

Florida reported 10,207 COVID-19 hospitalizations on Sunday, marking its largest single-day count to date. The grim record comes just one day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data showing that the state had counted 21,683 new infections Friday, its highest record of daily cases since the start of the pandemic.


Florida has become the new epicenter of the most recent U.S. outbreaks driven by the delta variant. The state now accounts for one out of every five new cases, and the weekend numbers are highly significant because they surpass previous records that were logged before vaccines were readily available.

Notably, Florida’s vaccination rate is actually the exact same as the nationwide average of 49% fully vaccinated, according to The New York Times tracker. In fact, Florida’s rate is the highest among the top 10 states currently reporting the most COVID cases.

While Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has encouraged Florida residents to get vaccinated, he and the state’s legislature have also made it much harder for local officials to enforce protections to mitigate further spread.

DeSantis Bars Masking in Schools

On the same day that the state reported its highest cases ever, DeSantis signed an executive order banning school districts from requiring students to wear a mask when they go back to school later this month.

The move directly contradicts guidance issued by the CDC last week, which recommended that everyone inside K-12 schools wear a face covering.

DeSantis, for his part, has repeatedly claimed the spikes are part of “seasonal” increases driven by more people being indoors and air-conditioning systems circulating the virus. Still, he argued also Friday that he did not think masks were necessary to prevent children from transmitting COVID in the classroom, where they are inside with air conditioning.

At the same time, last week, Florida reported more than 21,000 infections among children younger than 19.

Florida is not the only state that has banned schools from requiring masks. In fact, many of the states suffering the biggest spikes have done the same, including Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas — which all currently rank among the top 10 states with the highest per capita COVID cases.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (Axios)

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Biden to Mandate COVID Vaccines for Federal Workers as CDC Changes Masking Guidance

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News of the efforts came on the same day that the U.S. reported more than 100,000 new daily COVID cases for the first time since February.


Federal Vaccine Mandate

President Joe Biden will announce Thursday that all federal employees must get vaccinated against COVID-19 or consent to strict testing and other safety precautions, White House officials told reporters Tuesday.

Earlier in the day, Biden said he was considering the requirement but did not provide any more information.

While the officials also said the details are still being hashed out, they did note that the policy would be similar to ones recently put in place by California and New York City, which respectively required state and city workers to get the jab or submit to regular testing.

Also on Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated their guidelines to recommend that Americans who live in areas “of substantial or high transmission,” as well as all students and teachers, wear masks indoors regardless of their vaccination status.

Delta Causes Spikes, But Vaccines Still Prove Effective

The renewed COVID mitigation efforts come as the delta variant is driving massive surges all over the country.

Coronavirus cases have quadrupled throughout July, jumping from a weekly average of 11,799 on the first day of the month to 63,248 on Tuesday, according to The New York Times tracker. Tuesday also saw new daily infections topping 100,000 for the first time since February, with more than 108,000 reported, per The Times.

While the vast majority of new infections are among people who have not been vaccinated, there have also been increasing reports of breakthrough cases in people who have received the jab. 

Those cases, however, do not mean that the vaccines are not effective. 

No vaccine prevents 100% of infections. Health officials have said time and time again that the jabs are intended to prevent severe disease and death, and they are doing just that.

According to the most recent data for July 19, the CDC reported that only 5,914 of the more than 161 million Americans who have gotten the vaccine were hospitalized or died from COVID-19 — a figure that represents 0.0036% of vaccinated people.

While safety precautions may be recommended for some people who have received the vaccine, many media narratives have overstated the role breakthrough cases play in the recent spikes. As New York Magazine explains, it is imperative to understand these new mask recommendations are not happening because the vaccine is not effective, but because not enough people are getting the vaccine.

“Because breakthrough infections have so often made the news due to their novelty, that can create a perception of more cases than are actually happening — particularly without more robust tracking of the actual cases to provide context,” the outlet wrote.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (CNBC)

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Wisconsin Police Deny Planting Evidence in Viral Video, Release Their Own Body Cam Footage

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The footage police released shows that during a search, officers found a corner tear from a plastic bag inside a backseat passenger’s pocket. An officer then discarded it into the car after determining that it was empty.


Viral Video Appears To Show Officer Planting Evidence

The Caledonia Police Department in Wisconsin has responded to a viral cell phone video that appears to show an officer planting a small plastic baggie inside of a car during a traffic stop.

The now-viral footage was posted to Facebook by a man who goes by GlockBoy Savoo.

The user, who also filmed the clip, wrote in his post’s caption that the officer did this “just to get a reason to search the car” and said the cop didn’t know he was being recorded by the passenger.

Source: Facebook/ GlockBoy Savoo

Police Shut Down Accusations With Their Own Footage

After that video spread across social media, many were outraged, calling the Caledonia police dirty for seemingly planting evidence. All the outrage eventually prompted the department to announce an investigation Saturday.

Within hours, the department provided an update, claiming that officers didn’t actually plant any evidence or do anything illegal.

Police shared a lengthy summary of events, along with two body camera clips from the incident. That statement explained that the driver of the vehicle was pulled over for going 63 in a 45mph zone.

Two passengers in the backseat who were then spotted without seatbelts were asked to identify themselves and step out of the car. During a search of one passenger’s pockets, an officer pulled out “an empty corner tear” from a plastic baggie.

Police claim the corner tear did not contain any illegal substances, though they said this type of packaging is a common method for holding illegal drugs.

In one body cam clip, an officer can be heard briefly questioning the backseat passenger about the baggie. Then, that piece of plastic gets handed off to different officers who also determined it as empty before the officer in the original viral video discarded it into the back of the car.

The officer can also be seen explaining where the plastic came from to the passenger recording him.

“Aye, bro you just threw that in here!” the front seat passenger says, as heard in his version of the events.

“Yeah, cause it was in his pocket and I don’t want to hold onto it. It’s on their body cam that they took it off of him…I’m telling you where it came from, so. It’s an empty baggie at the moment too, so,” the officer replies.

The department went on to explain that while it would discourage officers from discarding items into a citizen’s car, this footage proves that evidence was not planted.

Authorities also noted that no arrests were made in this incident and the driver was the only one issued a citation for speeding. The statement added that since four officers were present at the scene, police have more than six hours of footage to review but they promised to release the footage in full in the near future.

See what others are saying: (Heavy)(CBS 58) (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

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