By Michael “Safear” Ness

(Written January 22, 2021)

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections refuses to waste money on individual COVID-19 tests for the prisoner population, instead preferring to test each prison’s accumulated sewage for COVID levels.

An official PA DOC memo dated January 21, 2021 from Secretary of Corrections John E. Wetzel states, “Facilities will increase [prisoner cohort sizes] at different times, and in different amounts depending on their local infection rates, and the results of sewage testing.”

Recent sewage testing at SCI Fayette indicated increased COVID-19 levels, delaying an increase in prisoner cohort size until additional testing can be performed.

Prisoner cohorts, assigned groups for movement, are allegedly designed to limit the risk of exposure by reducing prisoner to prisoner contact. The theory is, if one person in the cohort is exposed to COVID-19, or tests positive, the entire cohort is quarantined to prevent spreading the virus.

In application, once a prisoner is exposed to, or tests positive for the virus, no other members of that cohort receive automatic COVID testing unless they register a fever. If a prisoner tests positive for the virus, their cellmate is not automatically tested, despite being forced to continue to live in close proximity to the infected person. Even if a prisoner is coughing or fatigued, they are not automatically tested.

By not testing these prisoners, the prison administration is allowed to keep the appearance of a low COVID-19 infection rate, choosing instead to test everyone’s feces collectively to see how many prisoners are actually sick.

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