The Marin County prison is turning into “a catastrophic super spreader” according to a bombshell memo that explains how a bad situation is much worse than anyone realizes.
We thought things were bad just a week ago when a 46-inmate coronavirus outbreak hit San Quentin State Prison, some 15 miles north of San Francisco, after the facility had zero cases as recently as May. But that case number quickly exploded to 219 inmates testing positive as recently as Monday of this week. And with viral outbreaks working as insidiously as they do, the Chronicle informs us just a few days later that number has now more than doubled to 505 COVID-19 cases at San Quentin (that’s only counting inmates). That’s not even the most alarming revelation in the Chron’s report, whose more unnerving point is that UCSF and UC Berkeley health officials who’ve visited the site say the San Quentin outbreak could impact the entire Bay Area as cases explode among inmates and staff and potentially overwhelm hospitals.
“San Quentin State Prison is experiencing a rapidly evolving COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) outbreak with profoundly inadequate resources to keep it from developing into a full-blown local epidemic and health care crisis in the prison and surrounding communities,” says a team of seven UCSF and UC Berkeley professors and PhD candidates. “Failure to meet these urgent needs will have dire implications for the health of people incarcerated at San Quentin, custody, staff, and the health care capacity of Bay Area hospitals.”
Being California’s oldest prison, San Quentin is also perhaps the most dilapidated, and most of its cells lack proper doors. The doctors describe “exceedingly poor ventilation, extraordinarily close quarters exacerbated by overcrowding, and inadequate sanitation” at the facility, with a gymnasium now transformed into an open dorm with hundreds of bunks, little attempt at social distancing, and a rampant lack of masks among guards, nurses, and inmates.
There had been zero COVID-19 cases detected at San Quentin in March, April, or May. But on Memorial Day Weekend, a weekend widely blamed for spikes nationwide, the Chronicle tells us that nearly 200 Chino inmates were transferred in without being tested. It was off to the races from there, and now one in eight inmates is infected, in addition to 40 staff. There have been no reported fatalities yet, though statewide, 20 inmates and two prison employees have died of coronavirus.
California state prison officials have been tight-lipped in response to the revelations, but said they would comment by the end of the week.
San Francisco has been blessed with a steady and modest infection rate, at least compared to other cities and states, because we’ve sheltered in place pretty hard. But for all the unemployment, financial despair, lack of human contact, no haircuts, no sex, you name it, we could see all that sacrifice completely canceled out by a super spreader event like what’s being warned here. The mask wearing is important, but we may also need to pressure public officials into proactively addressing high-risk situations like the one developing at San Quentin.
Image: Jjz3d83 via Wikimedia Commons