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Maryland inmate tests positive for UK variant of COVID-19, Department of Corrections says

A Maryland inmate living in the Maryland Correctional Institution of Jessup tested positive for the more contagious B.1.1.7 variant of COVID-19 last week, according to the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

This is the first inmate in the state known to test positive for the variant, which first emerged in the United Kingdom in late 2020. Maryland health experts have urged the public to continue safety measures and to get vaccinated as it and other coronavirus variants continue to spread throughout the country and state.

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The variants, which include a Brazil strain known as P.1 and the South African variant B.1.351, are more contagious than the original strain of the coronavirus. About 1,300 cases have been detected nationwide of the three common variants, most being the U.K. variant, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The U.K. variant is expected to become the dominant strain in the United States by the end of March.

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A total of 29 active positive cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed for inmates inside the Maryland Correctional Institution since Friday, which is 4.4% of its prisoner population, according to Latoya Gray, a spokesperson for the corrections department. There have been over 4,000 cases among Maryland’s prison population since March of last year.

In coordination with Maryland state health officials, the department has been conducting routine testing of inmates and staff, but all inmates and employees at the Maryland Correctional Institution will “received both rapid and diagnostic tests,” Gray said in an email.

The tests will be performed to detect the presence of any COVID-19 variants and will be given to approximately 900 inmates and employees. All staff at the facility, including prisoners over the age of 65 have been offered the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

The first dose of the vaccine has been given to those “who agreed to be vaccinated,” the department says.

Overall, more than 84% of inmates in Maryland who are eligible for the vaccine have received shots and more than 4,000 of its correctional employees have been vaccinated at its on-site clinics, department spokesman Mark Vernarelli said.

“From the outset, DPSCS has aggressively and proactively planned and executed a thorough vaccination effort designed to reach as many people as possible, as fast as possible,” Vernarelli said in an emailed statement.

Marc Schindler, executive director of the Justice Policy Institute, said the confirmation of the U.K. variant inside of Maryland prisons is “troubling” and something that needs to be of high priority for the state to address.

“There appears to be an unfolding crisis going on in the prisons and now with the latest news with the U.K. variant, they need to significantly expand testing and make the vaccine available as quickly as possible,” he said.

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