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 COVID Prison Project, as of March 24th, there have been at least 582,538 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 2020, it was reported that incarcerated people were five times more likely to get COVID-19 than the general population.

In October 2021, an average of 45% of prison guards were unvaccinated in districts that reported data.

People who have an underlying health condition such as asthma, cancer or a heart condition, or anything that leads to an overall 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 6 feet) through respiratory 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. Anyone with COVID-19 can spread the virus–even if they have not yet developed symptoms or will never develop symptoms at any point in their illness. If you do have symptoms or have had exposure to someone with a confirmed case of COVID-19, 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 Diagnostic Tests. Both can show if you are currently infected with COVID-19: 

    • Molecular tests, such as polymerase chain reaction, or PCR tests. Results are usually available within 1-5 days after the sample is collected. 
    • Antigen tests, often referred to as rapid tests. Results are usually available within 30 minutes after the sample is collected. 

Samples are collected with a nasal swab and 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.

You can also take an at-home COVID-19 test, which is a form of a rapid antigen test. At-home tests are even more convenient and empower you to make choices about isolating or taking precautions when necessary. Click here to find out where you can pick up an at-home test in all 5 boroughs. You can also order at-home tests from the federal government here. 

You should get tested if you have symptoms of COVID-19 or even if you do not have symptoms but have been exposed to someone with COVID-19. In either case, you should stay home except to get tested and access other essential medical care. It is also very 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. 

While testing negative means that you most likely do not have COVID-19, if symptoms persist or you had confirmed exposure to someone who tested positive, it is worthwhile to consider getting another COVID-19 test. It is possible that virus had not built up enough in your body to show a positive response at the first test. Learn more about COVID-19 testing.

If you test positive, expect a call from a Contact Tracer at the NYC Test and Trace Corps (a 212 number) will call you. Be sure to answer their calls (from a 212 number)—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. If you tested positive on a home test, a Contact Tracer will not know to get in touch; instead, you should reach out to them to access resources and alert the city of your positive result at 212-COVID19 (or 212-268-4319.) Learn more about The Test & Trace Corps.


There are three main vaccines available in the USA.

  • Pfizer-BioNTech is 2 doses, given 21 days apart. It is available now for all people over age 5. 
  • Moderna is 2 doses, given 28 days apart. It is available for anyone over 18.
  • Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen is 1 dose. It is available for anyone over 18. 

It is recommended that you receive your second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine within the suggested window. However, if you are unable to schedule your second dose within exactly 21 or 28 days, respectively, it is important that you still get the second dose within 42 days of your first dose to ensure the vaccine will be effective. 


Many New Yorkers are now eligible for booster doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. If you received your first doses of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna and five months must have passed since your second dose, you are eligible to receive a booster shot. If you received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, you can receive your booster dose two months after your first dose. 

You are able to receive a booster dose of any vaccine, regardless of which vaccine you originally received. If you received Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna,  it is recommended to get a third dose of the same vaccine. If you received Johnson & Johnson, receiving a booster dose of Pfizer-BioNTech or modern may provide a heightened antibody response. 


It is recommended that ALL New Yorkers continue to wear face masks and facial coverings in indoor public space, especially if you are unvaccinated. It is required that you wear a mask on all public transportation, in hospitals, and in other congregate living spaces. 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 consider wearing 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


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.


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