County Executive Rich Fitzgerald
436 Grant St #101
Pittsburgh, PA 15219
Director Debra Bogen, MD
542 Fourth Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15219
Warden Orlando Harper
950 Second Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15219
Wednesday, May 6, 2020
Dear County Executive Fitzgerald, Director Bogen, and Warden Harper:
As you are all aware, there have now been cumulatively 28 positive results for COVID-19 amongst those incarcerated at the Allegheny County Jail (ACJ). An additional 5 staff members have also tested positive.
Limiting further spread of COVID-19 within the jail is paramount, but without taking stock of the current situation, other measures will prove to be at best inadequate to curb the outbreak. That is why we, the undersigned, are calling for an immediate implementation of a universal testing policy for the ACJ and alternative housing facilities, to encompass both incarcerated persons and staff.
Social distancing is impossible in correctional facilities, where individuals are confined to their cells, which they often share, and frequently recreate, shower, and take meals in communal settings. According to a recent study , closed facilities are more vulnerable to “secondary transmission of COVID-19 and promote superspreading events”. Robust and extensive testing is critical to any comprehensive plan to address the outbreak, limit its transmission, and mitigate its most harmful effects.
Twenty of the 28 positive cases amongst incarcerated persons were announced in the past 10 days. Perhaps more worryingly, the current positive-to-overall-tests ratio is 51%—the recommended benchmark for such a ratio is 10% . Such a high ratio hints there are likely positive cases that remain untested, a worrying indication we will see an explosion of COVID-19 infections in the coming weeks.
We saw a similar explosion in cases in the Allegheny County Treatment Alternative, an alternative housing facility in the county, where 65% of the residents recently tested positive for COVID-19 (11 of 17, overall). According to information provided by the County, ACTA was following “guidance provided by the Allegheny County Health Department and the CDC as it relates to COVID-19, including educating employees and residents on the virus, stressing personal hygiene and regular hand washing, maintaining facility cleanliness, social/physical distancing, visitor restrictions and the availability of PPE.” The guidance and safeguards proved inadequate at ACTA and without a proper universal testing policy and implementation, it will prove similarly inadequate at ACJ.
To date, 1.7% of the jail’s population has tested positive for COVID-19, yet, only 3.3% of the jail’s population has been tested. The County should immediately implement a policy of universal testing, and conduct tests of every individual incarcerated at the Allegheny County Jail and of every staff member who works at the facility.
Many other correctional facilities throughout the country have taken great strides to expand testing, with several realizing universal testing within their facilities , and greatly increasing their ability to combat the virus through doing so. Just across the state, Montgomery County Correctional facility recently tested every individual  held therein (938 in total). They discovered the contagion was 30 times more widespread than initial testing had shown, and a large majority of those testing positive were asymptomatic. Unfortunately, a similar dynamic is likely to present in Allegheny County, given the 51% rate of positive results.
Yet, Allegheny County is home to multiple world-class hospitals and medical research centers. One of them—UPMC—recently announced it would be instituting universal testing policies  for both its patients and employees, including those who display no symptoms. As tests have become more readily available, testing policies have become less restrictive and more expansive to meet the great need. Exemplifying this development, a testing site recently opened in North Philadelphia, which will provide universally-accessible testing : “patients don’t need [to] be presenting symptoms, health insurance isn’t needed, and a doctor’s referral isn’t required.” Such progress seems to be manifesting here as well, as County Spokesperson Amie Downs recently relayed, “the [Jail’s] ability to test [has] expanded, [and] results are turned around more quickly.” 
As recently as April 29, 2020, Allegheny County Director of Health, Dr. Debra Bogen, stated that, “Both testing and our capacity to test have also increased in our County…We estimate that we now have the capacity in our own County to do at least 2,000 tests per day  …but we expect that this will also increase.” She affirmed that, with regards to testing, “There is availability and capacity in our community, as needed.”
Funding cannot and must not be a limiting factor. Under federal guidance for the use of the CARES Act, received funds can be used for “costs of providing COVID-19 testing, including serological testing” as well as “COVID-19-related expenses of maintaining state prisons and county jails, including as relates to sanitation and improvement of social distancing measures, to enable compliance with COVID-19 public health precautions.” Furthermore, Allegheny County has had budgetary surpluses over the past several years that would more than account for any costs associated with universal testing.
We, the undersigned, call on Allegheny County, the Health Department, and the jail’s administration to immediately implement a policy of universal testing at ACJ and alternative housing facilities, to protect both those who are detained and those work inside, as well as the greater community more broadly.
-Abolitionist Law Center
-ACLU of Pennsylvania
-Autonomous Student Coalition
-Bukit Bail Fund
-Casa San Jose
-Green Party of Allegheny County
-Human Rights Coalition Fed-Up!
-Let’s Get Free: The Women & Trans Prisoner Defense Committee
-National Lawyers Guild – Pittsburgh Chapter
-The Nightshade Collective
-Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates
-Pittsburgh Feminists for Intersectionality
-Pittsburghers for Public Transit
-Prisoner Legal Support Project of University of Pittsburgh School of Law
-Take Action Mon Valley (TAMV)
-Thomas Merton Center
-Three Rivers Free Clinic for the People
-Volunteers with the Allegheny Chapter of the Pennsylvania Prison Society
-West End P.O.W.E.R.
-Words Without Walls
-Chelsa Wagner – Allegheny County Controller
-Bethany Hallam – Allegheny County Council, At-Large
-Olivia Bennett – Allegheny County Council, District 13
-Garret Wassermann, Candidate for State Rep, 45th District
-Darwin Leuba, O’Hara Township Auditor
-Anna Azizzy Rosati
-Jay Ting Walker
-Richard S. Matesic, Attorney at Law
-Fawn Walker Montgomery
-Lee Markovitz, Attorney at Law
-Stephen Stallings, Esq.
-Michael J. Healey
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