Prison outbreaks of COVID-19 have been widespread nationwide, and San Quentin State Prison in Marin County is the latest to see one that has been racking up new cases daily over the last week. To date, 46 inmates have tested positive, and it's unclear how many prison employees have been impacted as well.
The number of confirmed infections among inmates rose from 26 on June 10 to 46 on June 12, according to the Department of Corrections, though Marin County is still only officially reporting 33 cases at the prison. As of last month, there were no confirmed cases at San Quentin, and it's only in the last ten days that the county has begun reporting the prison cases as a separate tally from the county at large. Nonetheless, the San Quentin outbreak has helped to fuel a quick uptick in Marin's case count, which rose from 483 on June 1 to 805 on June 16, an increase of 67 percent in just two weeks. (Marin County health officer Dr. Matt Willis, who was himself infected with the virus in March, says the increase in cases is primarily due to widespread testing, and Marin's hospitalization rate remains flat, therefore justifying reopening more of the economy.)
As KPIX reports, via a coalition of criminal justice activists, the outbreak at San Quentin began with the transfer of 121 inmates from the California Institution for Men in Southern California on May 30. That prison has had 491 cumulative cases of COVID-19, and 15 inmates have died.
Inmates say that robust testing within the prison has not occurred, though guards have been widely tested. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) says that 835 San Quentin inmates have been tested to date, which is three times the rate among prison populations statewide.
Oakland’s Ella Baker Center for Human Rights held a virtual press conference on Tuesday to call attention to the outbreak, and one prisoner called into the conference to report that besides some bottles of hand sanitizer that were passed out months ago, little has been done to protect the prisoners from infection.
"The statewide order to socially distance does not contain a footnote excluding incarcerated persons," the prisoner said. "Our right to be free of grave physical harm is not being afforded to us in the same manner that other human beings are receiving it."
Activists are calling on Governor Gavin Newsom to make more efforts to allow early releases for prisoners. Currently, felons are being granted releases if they are within six months of their already scheduled release date.
A spokesperson for the CDCR issued a statement saying, "CDCR takes the health and safety of our incarcerated population and the community-at-large very seriously and have taken unprecedented steps to address this public health crisis. We will continue to expand on our efforts to safely and securely increase physical distancing within our institutions."
Photo: Marin Visitors Bureau