I want to begin by expressing my gratitude and appreciation to the people who have been reaching out to me and expressing their concern about my health and well-being as the nation grapples with one of the most horrific pandemics and national tragedies we have ever witnessed.
This is a very challenging time for the nation and unfortunately the worst is yet to come. According to data models based on the trajectory of how the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has impacted other countries, the disease isn't forecasted to peak in the U.S. until the end of April.
The mortality rate for those infected with COVID-19 as of March 23, 2020 in the U.S. is currently 1.3 percent. It's important to note that this number reflects a period of time when most hospitals still had enough ICU beds to care for infected patients. At this rate the nation could lose at least four million lives if the virus isn't aggressively contained and mitigated.
Yesterday Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer made the wise decision to issue a mandatory stay-at-home, stay safe executive order for Michigan residents which will remain in place for the next three weeks in an effort to slow the rapid spread of COVID-19.
The number of people infected with COVID-19 since the first person tested positive in Michigan thirteen days ago is now 1,791. Twenty-four people have died. The number of people testing positive for the disease doubled over the weekend.
According to Governor Whitmer, without taking aggressive measures to contain the disease the number of people becoming infected with COVID-19 could soar by as high as five times this week in the state. As of today, the State of Michigan ranks sixth highest for the number of people who have tested positive in the nation.
Last week administrators at the prison I am currently housed, the Lakeland Correctional Facility (LCF), suspended all visits from members of the public indefinitely. The Warden also announced they will understandably not be restored until the COVID-19 crisis is stabilized.
According to prison staff, as of today no one at the prison has tested positive for COVID-19. Incarcerated people don't find that very comforting, however, given that no testing for the disease has taken place for weeks within the MDOC due to the unavailability of test kits until March 22, 2020.
Previous to this the extent of diagnostic testing staff or incarcerated people in Michigan prisons consisted of people being asked a series a questions (e.g., if they have a cough, respiratory distress, etc.) and being administered a temperature check. If they didn't have a fever it was assumed they didn't have COVID-19.
For an incarcerated person this has meant being returned to the general population of the prison with hundreds of others. For staff members it has meant being allowed to enter the prison to work in direct contact with hundreds of incarcerated people and other staff members for an eight-hour shift.
This is deeply troubling because according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, people infected with COVID-19 can go days without exhibiting symptoms of the disease and still be very contagious. Some people remain asymptomatic the entire time and keep shedding the virus.
Many incarcerated people live barracks-style in congested dorms, gymnasiums, and other open settings surrounded by dozens of people originally designed to house only a fraction of the people they currently house. They live much closer together than students at college campus dorms which have been closed across the state to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
Incarcerated people in Michigan prisons are also still standing in lines waiting to be fed in the prison dining hall where hundreds of people are fed three times a day seated at tables designed to seat four. There are usually approximately 100 people in the dining hall eating at one time.
Just this past week the prison I am housed at began limiting seating in the dining hall to two people per table. While a step in the right direction, the square tables are only three feet wide -- half the space the CDC guidelines call for social distancing. People serving meals on the serving line are also standing side-by-side separated approximately a foot apart.
By now it is a widely known fact that COVID-19 spreads more rapidly in density. The current dining arrangement in many prisons is the reason Governor Whitmer ordered restaurants in the community to no longer offer dine-in services and restricted them to drive-thru and delivery options only.
Prisons also continue transferring incarcerated people from prison to prison, increasing the chance of COVID-19 becoming community spread throughout prisons. County jails continue transporting people to prisons as well.
This is taking place despite the White House Coronavirus Task Force urging people to remain in their homes to minimize the transmission of the contagion, and the U.S. State Department issuing a Level 4 global travel advisory -- the highest level possible -- restricting Americans from nonessential travel.
The conditions inside prisons make it impossible to practice the safe social distancing guidelines prescribed by the CDC of keeping people separated by six feet. Prisons are a frightening incubator for spread of the highly contagious disease and pose an enormous public health risk.
The problem will also be exacerbated because of the health care provider's inability to provide a serious level of care, and its dismal history of exhibiting repeated deliberate indifference to the serious medical needs of incarcerated people.
March 18, 2020 elected prosecutors from across the nation -- including from Michigan -- issued a joint statement addressing the rights and needs of those in custody, sounding the alarm about the impact an outbreak of COVID-19 could have on this vulnerable demographic. According to their statement:
"[L]little attention is being paid to the millions of people in the most overcrowded conditions that are ripe for the spread of this contagious and deadly virus: the people behind bars in America's jails, prisons, and immigration detention centers."
New data shows that four out of five people -- an astonishing 80% -- who have tested positive for COVID-19 contracted it from a person they didn't even know had the disease, and a recent study from Italy found that the mortality rate for men in every age group who contract the contagion is twice as high as for women.
We've also learned that COVID-19 can remain active in the air for up to three hours and on hard surfaces for up to two days, making people vulnerable to coming into contact with the disease in those ways as well.
During the past week it was announced that three MDOC employees have tested positive for COVID-19. They worked in Detroit, Jackson, and Lapeer. Media outlets have reported that two of the employees worked in contact with incarcerated people and one of them did not.
This Sunday the Associated Press reported that a COVID-19 outbreak has occurred at the Rikers Island detention center in New York. Thirty-eight incarcerated people tested positive for the disease. This means potentially hundreds of others they lived and interacted with who have not yet exhibited symptoms may be infected as well.
And yesterday the local news reported the first case of an incarcerated person at the Kinross Correctional Facility (KCF) in Kincheloe, Michigan, testing positive for COVID-19. KCF houses over 1,000 incarcerated people in double-bunked pole barns, which each house hundreds of people.
Now that diagnostic testing for COVID-19 has begun in the MDOC it is inevitable we will begin hearing additional reports of people testing positive for the virus in prisons across Michigan in the coming days. The fear of incarcerated people is if more mitigation and containment efforts are not implemented in prisons there could be a surge of infection which would be catastrophic.
One thing that needs to immediately occur is for prisons to discontinue feeding incarcerated people in dining halls. They should instead prepare meals for them in disposable containers and/or bags to consume in their living quarters.
The practice of eating in dining halls as the spread of COVID-19 is accelerating across the country is diametrically opposed to the CDC guidelines and poses a serious danger to public safety. The objective is to mitigate the propagation of the highly contagious disease, not wait for people to contract it and then act.
No effort has completely prevented COVID-19 from spreading anywhere in the world. Some countries are doing better than others at it. But the ones that are have completely locked the country down and issued stay-at-home orders to their citizens which are being strictly enforced.
I am grateful to share that the status of my personal health is currently good. I've been going out to take walks and get fresh air daily, exercising alone, and spending a lot of time reading. I have a lot of writing projects I'm working on that are keeping me busy as well.
Though the majority of people will survive if they contract COVID-19, we have to shield ourselves and others from being hunted by it as much as possible. We're not invincible. Thousands of people are succumbing to COVID-19 around the globe and no one is being spared.
It is important that we take all the CDC COVID-19 guidelines very seriously. Listen to the scientists, doctors, and health experts. We should continue washing our hands frequently, sanitizing hard surfaces, and practice social distancing.
Ignoring any of these guidelines will not only put our personal lives at risk, but the lives of our family members, friends, and neighbors as well. A short time ago the World Health Organization announced that the U.S. is on track to soon become the global epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic. This crisis is becoming more serious by the moment.
COVID-19 is ravaging people's lungs. It's leaving many of them scarred and some people are losing 20-30% of their lung capacity. Some people have also reported losing the ability to taste and smell. Whether the damage remains permanently is still unknown at this time.
We have a moral and social responsibility to support and help one another during this time. And the more we work together to contain and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 the sooner we will be able to defeat the virus and resume our normal lives.
Taking care of our mental and emotional health is also critically important right now. Unmanaged stress can compromise our immune system which is something we can ill-afford. The confluence of crisis and uncertainty can grip people with fear and anxiety. So can being barraged with intrusive worries.
I am reminding people around me every day who are struggling mentally or emotionally right now that no one benefits from becoming panicked during this time. We have to remain calm and clear minded so we can make good choices, driven by facts not by fear.
I encourage people to use this time for self-care, reflection, and recentering. These activities can have a calming and healing effect. As I have personally experienced, taking walks and enjoying the outdoors while still practicing social distancing can be helpful as well.
Members of the public should enjoy the time they are spending with those they are sheltering in their homes with, and strive to forge deeper connections with them. Celebrate the gift of life and be grateful for one another at a time when thousands of families are suffering the devastating loss of loved ones due to COVID-19.
Take time to introduce a hobby you enjoy with someone else which can stimulate their brain activity and be serenity-inducing, creativity-boosting, and health-enhancing. Please also do each other an enormous favor and exercise an abundance of patience with one another.
People can also call one another and use video chat platforms like Skype, Face Time, and Facebook Messenger to connect. Don't equate social distancing with emotional distancing. Instead, devote energy to nurturing emotional connections.
That said, we should take the time to address each other's mental and emotional health needs and concerns right now as well. There are a lot of people struggling with depression and anxiety in need of our help and support.
A 2005 Australian study found that having a strong social support system can increase life expectancy by as much as 22 percent. Listening to people, offering them words of encouragement, and validating them goes a long way.
Taking time to helping our children and young people is also important right now. Many kids are living in fear and struggling to make sense of everything going on. Their lives were abruptly upended with no advanced notice of any kind. They will need help developing coping strategies and ideas to manage their frustration.
Consider visiting YouTube and TED Talks to view talks about meditation, yoga, and techniques to cope with stress and anxiety. I recommend watching videos by Deepak Chopra whose books have been a guide and inspiration to help me cope with decades of living in isolation.
To all the courageous medical professionals and first responders risking their lives everyday fighting the battle against COVID-19 on the front line; the school employees (like my beloved mother) still going to work each day to prepare meals to deliver to their students who struggle with food insecurity; shopping angels -- people shopping for their elderly neighbors so they don't have to leave their homes to risk their health; people producing much needed masks and gowns for health care workers in their own homes; and the many, many others doing their part to help make a difference -- the nation thanks you.
The road forward may be difficult and the end may seem very distant at times, but we are resilient and we'll make it through this crisis together. We have to believe in ourselves, in each other, and continue supporting one another. When we tell each another "I got you" make it count.
Let's choose faith over fear, and peace over panic. Life is sacred, and the safety and protection of every human life is paramount right now. Please be careful and stay healthy.
Praying for the nation,
--Efrén Paredes, Jr.