After nearly 2,200 inmates at San Quentin State Prison contracted the coronavirus beginning in early June, the number of active cases in custody on Monday fell to 145, while two more deaths have been recorded.
The initially uncontrolled outbreak at the prison began with a late May transfer from the California Institution for Men at Chino where an outbreak had already infected hundreds of inmates. Due to some combination of errors and incompetence, these transfer inmates were not all tested or properly quarantined before introducing them to a large unit at San Quentin with no doors on the cells. Very quickly, by June 22, there were over 200 confirmed cases at the prison, and a week later that number had more than quintupled to 1,011, representing a third of the prison's entire population.
All told, more than two thirds of the incarcerated men at San Quentin contracted the virus — a total of 2,184 to date. Of those, 145 remain active cases in custody, 53 are active cases who have been released, and 1,965 cases have resolved or recovered. 21 inmates have died, including around 10 of the prison's 715 death row inmates. The latest to be identified was 48-year-old Orlando G. Romero, who was convicted of murder and robbery in 1996 and has been on death row ever since. As the Mercury News reports, Romero died on Sunday of what are suspected to be complications from COVID-19, though he had not yet been tested.
The ripple effects from the San Quentin outbreak are still being seen in Marin County and elsewhere, with guards and other staff members infected who may have spread to virus to their families or communities, though those numbers are not yet known. Hospitals including some in San Francisco have taken transfer patients in order to ease the burden on Marin County's small healthcare system.
However, the rapid-impact super-spreading disaster predicted by some UCSF and UC Berkeley doctors in late June does not appear to have come to pass — even if the case count in Marin County outside the prison has escalated well past what it was before the San Quentin outbreak. The number of inmates testing positive for COVID-19 at San Quentin in the last two weeks was only 69 according to state data, suggesting that prison officials have finally been successful in stemming the spread — though with a total inmate population of 3,293, there are still 1,109 inmates who have not yet tested positive, and still could. (To prevent over-crowding, the prison's population was already reduced from 4,051 in March, thanks to some early releases.)
It is unclear how many of the remaining active cases are severe or currently hospitalized.
"There’s no end to the downstream impacts of what, quite frankly, was the worst prison screw-up in state history,” said state Assemblyman Marc Levine (D-Marin) speaking to the Mercury News last week.
In the case of one San Quentin guard, 55-year-old Sgt. Gilbert Polanco, he was still fighting for his life in a San Jose hospital as of late last week. Polanco came home sick in late June after doing whatever he could to avoid becoming infected at work, and he has now been hospitalized for about a month and is on a ventilator. Polanco's wife and daughter also became infected but have since recovered, as the Mercury News reports.
Prior to the outbreak, Marin County had one of the lowest COVID case counts among Bay Area counties, with just 483 confirmed cases as of June 1. The county now has 5,092 cases, a 1054% uptick in just over 60 days — and of those, 2,908 have occurred in the community outside the prison walls.