COVID-19 Health Information for People Recently Released from Jail or Prison in New York

COVID-19 Health Information for People Recently Released from Jail or Prison in New York

People who were recently released from correctional facilities are at greater risk of having or getting COVID-19. Reasons for this include difficulty physical distancing while in jails and prisons and reduced access to healthcare, housing, and other resources upon release. In addition, the risk of COVID-19 exposure increases due to the high number of people entering and leaving some jails and prisons.

If you have recently been released from jail or prison, here are some resources and tips for staying safe and protecting you and your loved ones during the COVID-19 public health emergency. We hope this information will empower you to make informed health decisions.


According to The Marshall Project, by October 27th, there have been at least 161,349 cases of COVID-19 reported among incarcerated people.

At the height of the pandemic, Rikers became an epicenter of the virus in New York. The reported infection rate in city jails was nearly seven times higher than the citywide rate.

In June, incarcerated people were five times more likely to get COVID-19 than the general population.

It was recently reported that some NYC Department of Corrections staff members haven’t been wearing masks or following COVID-19 guidelines on-duty.

People who have such as a weakened immune system are at higher risk of having severe COVID-19.

Racial inequities in all aspects of society create conditions that make Black and Latino people three times more likely to get COVID-19 than white people in the U.S.


COVID-19 is an illness caused by a virus that can spread from person to person (Center for Disease Control).

COVID-19 commonly spreads between people who are in close contact (within about 6 feet) through droplets sprayed when a person talks, sneezes, coughs, sings or breathes. Learn more about how COVID-19 spreads.

If you have COVID-19, you may or may not have symptoms. If you do have symptoms, be sure to get tested and isolate at home. Learn more about common symptoms.

Older adults and individuals with underlying health conditions are more likely to experience severe symptoms that lead to hospitalization. Learn more about who is at higher risk.


There are two kinds of COVID-19 Tests:

    • Virus tests (also called diagnostic tests) are swab or saliva tests that seek to identify if someone is currently infected with the virus
    • Antibody tests are blood tests that seek to identify if someone had COVID-19 in the past

COVID-19 virus tests are safe, quick, and confidential. NYC Health + Hospitals offers no-cost testing at hospitals, health centers, and pop-up locations across the five boroughs. Just walk in – no appointment needed. Click here to find a free testing site near you or text “COVID TEST” to 855-48.

Get tested even if you do not have symptoms. And if you have symptoms, you should stay home except to get tested and other essential medical care. It is even more important to get a COVID-19 test if you are planning to visit a loved one who is at an increased risk of severe illness.

A positive virus test means that you most likely have COVID-19 now and must stay home and take precautions to reduce the risk of spreading it to others. Testing negative means that you most likely do not have COVID-19. Learn more about COVID-19 testing.

If you test positive, a Contact Tracer at the NYC Test and Trace Corps (a 212 number) will call you. Be sure to answer their calls—Contact Tracers are fellow community members who are here to get you the medical care and support you need to protect yourself and your loved ones. Learn more about The Test & Trace Corps.


If you’ve recently been released from jail or prison, be aware that face coverings are required in public in New York. New York State law requires everyone over the age of 2 who can medically tolerate a face covering to wear one in public if unable to maintain at least 6 feet of distance from others. Learn more about face coverings.

You MUST wear a face covering at all times when riding public transportation, such as the subway, ferry, bus, taxis, and car services. People who refuse to wear a face-covering on NYC subways, trains, and buses are subject to a $50 fine.

Here are some places where you should always wear a face-covering:

  • On a busy street
  • Shopping in stores
  • Dining at a restaurant (when not eating or drinking)
  • Seeing your doctor
  • Going to a place of worship
  • Attending a gathering (Gatherings should be avoided, especially if indoors. Learn more about getting together safely) 


If you live in a shelter or group housing with shared facilities, wear a face covering when you leave your apartment or room.

If possible, keep 6 feet away from other residents.

Wash your hands often with soap and water. Use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.

Avoid gathering in groups other than with members of your household.

If you live in a large household, and have symptoms or test positive for COVID-19, make sure to safely distance yourself from other household members and wear a face covering. Learn more tips for separating safely at home.

The NYC Test & Trace Corps will help ensure that anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 and their close contacts will have resources to safely separate in a hotel, free of charge, or at home. Learn more about accessing a hotel.


Throughout the pandemic, many people have been advocating for incarcerated people and individuals who were recently released.

The Fortune Society has been providing reentry services and transitional housing throughout the pandemic.

The RAPP (Release Aging People in Prison) Campaign, has been advocating for Governor Cuomo to release elderly and medically vulnerable people from New York’s jails and prisons.

The Legal Aid Society and Bronx Defenders have won lawsuits to release people from Rikers.

Exodus Transitional Community has been connecting people to hotel rooms in order to quarantine after release from incarceration.

The #LessIsMoreNY coalition has been fighting to end incarceration for people charged with technical violations of parole and probation.

You are not alone, and there are people who are here to support you during these challenging times.

Learn how Fortune Society can help you