A justice for the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held a hearing Friday on a case against sheriffs across the state, who oversee county jails.
They're accused of deliberate indifference for not conducting regular widespread COVID-19 testing of inmates and staff.
The state's public defender's office and other defense attorneys brought the lawsuit.
Lawyer Jessie Rossman said while the sheriffs have been limiting of the spread of COVID-19 through mask wearing and social distancing, "those steps cannot overcome a failure to test people, so you that you know whether or not they actually are infected."
Dan Bair, the attorney for the sheriffs, said that in consultation with a medical expert, they have primarily been testing symptomatic people, and those who've come into contact with an infected person. He said the strategy has worked.
"Houses of correction have not turned out to be Petri dishes of infection and COVID has not spread like wildfire," Bair said.
The lawsuit also alleges the sheriffs haven't released as many inmates as they should have in light of COVID-19 — a charge the sheriffs deny.