As of a week ago, there were just over 1,000 active cases of COVID-19 at San Quentin State Prison in Marin County. That number has grown to over 1,400, or 40 percent, and now a total of six inmates have died from the disease. It is by far the biggest outbreak at a California prison.
Out of the 1,436 total cumulative cases at San Quentin, 48 are listed as "resolved" according to state corrections department data, and 1,369 remain "active" with the inmates still in custody — 13 other active cases are listed as having been released.
As of today, we know that at least five of the COVID deaths at the prison were among death row inmates — an irony given the fact that many had been on death row for decades without being executed due to California's fraught relationship with the death penalty. Condemned Contra Costa County killer Joseph S. Cordova, 75, who was convicted via DNA evidence in the 1979 murder of an 8-year-old girl in San Pablo, was found lifeless in his cell last week and later tested positive for COVID-19.
71-year-old Richard Stitely, convicted in the 1990 rape and murder of Carol Unger in Los Angeles, died in his cell two weeks ago after reportedly refusing COVID testing.
Another inmate, 57-year-old Scott Erskine, who had been on death row since 2004 for the killing of two San Diego boys in 1993, died Friday morning of COVID complications, as the LA Times reported. And 59-year-old Dewayne Michael Carey, on death row since 1996 for the 1995 first-degree murder of his next-door neighbor in Harbor City, Ernestine Campbell, was found dead in his cell on Saturday.
59-year-old Manuel Machado Alvarez, on death row since 1989 for a Sacramento crime spree that included the killing of a 35-year-old man while trying to rob him, also died over the weekend of COVID complications, per NBC Bay Area.
Update: As KPIX reports, the sixth inmate to die was also on death row. 61-year-old David Reed, who was sentenced to death in 2011 after the racially motivated killing of a Black homeless person in Palm Springs in 2004, died from COVID complications this week.
The prison, which dates back to 1852, mostly contains cells with bars for enclosures instead of doors — something that has been widely cited as a cause for the uncontrollable outbreak that spread through the facility over the last four weeks. As of May 31, the prison had not had any recorded COVID cases, but a transfer of over 100 inmates from the men's prison at Chino, where an earlier outbreak had occurred, spurred the much larger one at San Quentin.
"They should not have been transferred," Governor Gavin Newsom said in remarks on Monday, per KPIX. Newsom said of the San Quentin outbreak, "We have been working on this every single day for the last three weeks," and he said efforts would be made to reduce the prisoner population to around 3,000 during the next several weeks.
With a capacity of 3,082, San Quentin was listed as having 3,776 inmates as of late April, before the transfer of 121 inmates from Chino.
Healthcare and infectious disease experts have warned that the San Quentin outbreak could end up overwhelming area ICUs with severe cases, and several of the deceased inmates mentioned above died in hospitals outside the prison. Assemblymember Marc Levine told KPIX last week that a mobile hospital was being established on the grounds of the prison with a 160-bed capacity, and it would be ready to take patients by this Friday, July 10.
As a result of the outbreak, the hierarchy in charge of medical care in state prisons has been changed, and oversight for medical care has been shifted to state control.
Image: Jjz3d83 via Wikimedia Commons
This post has been updated to reflect that all six inmates to die were on death row.