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Hunger strike in Newark, quarantine of Bergen guards highlight coronavirus fear in jails

A hunger strike in Newark and word of quarantined corrections officers in Hackensack offered a new source of COVID-19 anxiety on Thursday: whether New Jersey jails can protect the incarcerated amid the outbreak.

Prisons are poorly equipped to handle the disease, said Vikas Saini, president of the Lown Institute, a health care think tank in Brookline, Massachusetts. And a lack of testing in the U.S. is making it even harder to keep out, he said.

“Once it’s out in the community and transmitting cryptically, you don’t have any real predictability,’’ Saini said.

While most infections won't lead to a severe illness, others will, and "everything we are seeing in the literature is that it can come on relatively quickly," he said. "Prisons are not places that are really equipped to monitor people in terms of their medical status if it were to take a turn for the worse."

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