A somewhat low vaccination rate among prison guards has produced a predictable result, as San Quentin State Prison, and all California state prisons, are in full lockdown.

The Marin County correctional facility San Quentin State Prison was severely affected by COVID-19 outbreaks in the early summer of 2020, when nearly a third of inmates caught the virus, and around two dozen died. Much of this was thanks to a botched transfer of infected inmates from Chino, and the prison faced huge fines and wrongful death lawsuits.

Now the Omicron surge, coupled with a bafflingly low vaccination rate among guards — despite the well publicized death of an infected guard there in August 2020 — has spread the problem statewide. The Marin Independent Journal reports that San Quentin and all California state prisons are on a 15-day lockdown, and the Chronicle adds that statewide, the prison system has seen “a 311% increase from the week before“ in new COVID cases.

And what do you know, the surge is being driven by unvaccinated guards. According to the Marin Independent Journal, “The prison reported six active cases among inmates and 83 among staff in the last two weeks, as of Wednesday,” and, “At the prison, 91% of inmates and 66% of correctional staff are vaccinated.”

Screenshot: California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

Update: Data from January 13 now shows 66 active COVID-19 cases among San Quentin inmates, and a staff vaccination rate of 76% (San Quentin is identified as "SQ" in the charts above).

So what does lockdown look like in a state prison, where people are already essentially locked down? The Chronicle explains that “under the temporary rules, inmates from different housing units are to stay separate. Inmates are required to maintain physical distancing while moving through their facilities, eating in dining halls, showering and whenever they are in the library or dayroom.” The paper adds that “if possible, inmates should eat in their cells rather than in a dining hall, the guidelines state. If the dining halls are used for eating, occupancy is to be limited and tables and other ‘high-touch areas’ are to be disinfected between each use. Showers and phones are also to be disinfected between uses.”

Visits are only allowed via phone calls and video conferences

”It’s lamentable that vaccination rates are so low among (prison) staff,” Marin County Public Health Officer Dr. Matt Willis told the Journal. “But it’s reassuring to see that rates among staff are not leading to anywhere near the case numbers that we saw before, prior to vaccines.”

And really, San Quentin has been holding up comparatively well since the summer 2020 mess. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation data shows the prison has had 634 cumulative cases, compared to more than 1,000 at Corcoran, Stockton, and Sacramento County. But with guards able to go the “proof of negative test” route rather than full vaccination, this lockdown sentence could last much longer than 15 days.

Note: This post has been updated with January 13 data from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Related: San Quentin COVID Outbreak Claims the Life of 55-Year-Old Prison Guard [SFist]

Image: Frank Schulenburg via Wikimedia Commons