(SACRAMENTO, CA) – Following reports that at least sixteen inmates at San Quentin State Prison (San Quentin) have tested positive for COVID-19, Assemblymember Marc Levine (D – Marin County) renewed his call for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) and San Quentin to develop site specific plans to address a COVID-19 infection surge at the prison and ensure that limited hospital capacity in the North Bay would be able to safely accommodate civilian and prisoner patients. San Quentin is located in Assemblymember Levine’s district in Marin County.
While COVID-19 cases in Marin County have remained relatively low with 635 reported cases and 17 deaths as of June 10, Levine has received a number of inquiries from constituents about a lack of appropriate planning to protect prisoners, correctional officers, staff and the public in the event of a sudden increase of infections.
On May 30, a series poorly managed actions by CDCR staff led to the transfer of 121 inmates from the California Institution for Men in Chino to San Quentin, none of whom were tested for COVID-19 immediately prior to the transfer. The inmate bus transfer itself exposed hundreds of inmates to the virus and once arriving at San Quentin, transferred inmates were quickly comingled with the existing inmate population, endangering thousands of inmates and staff at the prison. Transferred inmates were then housed at upper levels of the Badger Unit prison block, making it easier for any inmate vapor to fall upon other inmates below. Chino inmates were also transferred to other CDCR facilities across the state, creating a potential spike of COVID-19 infections across the state.
When questioned, CDCR staff gave false statements about many aspects of the inmate transfer, including the timeline of inmate testing - leading many to question what other false information could have been shared by CDCR with the public.
The highly contagious and deadly coronavirus has already killed over 114,000 Americans including nearly 4,700 Californians. An infection surge of COVID-19 among the inmate population and civilian population in Marin County would easily overwhelm the limited hospital capacity in the North Bay and could result in additional casualties. There are many communities throughout California near CDCR facilities with limited local ICU capacity to deal with a dual community/prison infection surge.
Levine’s May 13th letter follows discussion with CDCR staff and San Quentin Acting Warden Ron Broomfield about their COVID-19 planning, where they shared their statewide plan to treat and prevent the spread of the coronavirus. This plan unfortunately, did not include site specific plans or coordination efforts with county public health offices for any of the 35 state prisons under the jurisdiction of CDCR.
Levine’s May 13th letter requested specific information on four subjects:
What is San Quentin’s site-specific plan to treat a surge of COVID-19 positive prisoners including sourcing PPE and other necessary materials?
What impact would a surge of COVID-19 infections have on the surrounding hospitals and community?
What steps are being taken at San Quentin and across CDCR to limit these impacts?
What resources must we provide CDCR to ensure that prisons and communities across California are prepared for a surge in prisoner infection?
“In April, I raised red flags about the lack of a clear, site specific COVID-19 plan by CDCR and the dangerous potential of a COVID-19 infection spike at San Quentin State Prison,” said Assemblymember Levine. “By ignoring my warning and with a spike of COVID-19 cases at San Quentin, prison staff are scrambling to prevent an even larger public health crisis.”
“To resolve this crisis, CDCR must immediately set up an incident command to manage this emergency,” continued Levine. “CDCR and San Quentin staff should work in partnership with the Marin County Department of Public Health to immediately develop and release a COVID-19 containment and prevention plan for the prison site and take every action necessary to limit further transmissions of this deadly disease. CDCR must also conduct a thorough review of this botched inmate transfer and establish new inmate testing and transfer protocols to protect inmates and staff at state prisons. We must take immediate action before local hospitals are overwhelmed by CRCR’s potentially fatal mistakes.”
A copy of Levine’s letter to Secretary Diaz and Acting Warden Broomfield can be found HERE.
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