This Is How Trump’s Executions Are Spreading The Coronavirus

STR New / Reuters The execution chamber in Terre Haute, Indiana. The Trump administration is planning on executing five more people before President-elect Joe Biden takes office. In late November, as health officials urged the public to avoid travel amid a new wave of coronavirus cases, dozens of people traveled to a federal prison complex in Terre Haute, Indiana, for the execution of Orlando Hall. At the time, around 75 incarcerated people and staff at the complex had active cases of COVID-19. A few days later, Hall’s spiritual adviser Yusuf Ahmed Nur, who performed last rites for Hall while next to two unmasked executioners, tested positive. Since then, cases have spiked at Federal Correctional Complex, Terre Haute, where all federal executions take place. As of Monday, over 200 incarcerated people and 21 staff are sick with the virus. Now, the Department of Justice has admitted that “some” members of the execution team also tested positive after the execution, though it did not elaborate further. The latest disclosure came in response to a lawsuit brought by two men incarcerated at FCC Terre Haute. They are suing the government to halt executions until the pandemic is under control in order to protect their health. The government’s admission, which was buried in a footnote of a court filing, is evidence of what public health experts and lawyers who represent people on death row have been warning for months: Carrying out executions during a pandemic puts people who live and work in and around the prison at increased risk of contracting a potentially fatal disease. There is simply no doubt that these executions spread COVID-19. Cassandra Stubbs, ACLU No details were given about how many execution team members tested positive. Lawyers for the two men wrote that the government disclosure offered “compelling evidence of the significant risk that conducting the scheduled executions will spread COVID-19 within FCC Terre Haute (and beyond).” In the meantime, the Trump administration is pushing forward with the killings. On Thursday, the government plans to execute Brandon Bernard, a man who was sentenced to death for acting as an accomplice to a crime that occurred when he was 18 years old. Five of the nine surviving jurors who sentenced Bernard to death now believe he should live, citing information that came out after his trial. Prisons are some of the most dangerous places to be during the pandemic, as those living within them cannot socially distance themselves from others and often lack access to protective gear and cleaning supplies. Prisons also tend to be crowded and poorly ventilated. Since the pandemic began, many of the largest outbreaks have been linked to correctional facilities. There is no compelling reason these executions need to be carried out now. Until recently, there had not been a federal execution in 17 years. When the pandemic hit the U.S., most states paused executions in an effort to contain the spread of the virus. But in July, the Trump administration resumed federal executions, against the advice of public health experts. Since then, the government has rushed to put to death eight people, with five more scheduled to die before President-elect Joe Biden, who opposes the death penalty, takes office on Jan. 20. This is the first time since 1889 that an outgoing administration has carried out a federal execution after losing an election.

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