Assemblymember Levine Calls for Epidemiologist to Lead Containment of COVID-19 at San Quentin State Prison

For immediate release:

(SAN RAFAEL, CA) – With an explosion of COVID-19 positive tests in the past week from San Quentin State Prison (San Quentin) inmates and staff, Assemblymember Marc Levine (D – Marin County) today called on Governor Newsom and leadership at the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to take immediate action to limit further infections at the prison by appointing an epidemiologist with decision making authority to lead infection containment. As of June 17th, 47 inmates and sixteen staff had tested positive for the coronavirus.


Just last month, following reports that at least sixteen inmates at San Quentin had tested positive for COVID-19, Assemblymember Levine renewed his call for 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.


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 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 at other prisons.


The highly contagious and deadly coronavirus has already killed over 120,000 Americans including over 5,000 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.


“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. “Those concerns were dismissed. In May, I renewed my call for immediate action by CDCR and San Quentin leadership to prevent an even larger COVID-19 public health crisis. Those concerns were dismissed. Now in mid-June and with COVID-19 infections at San Quentin spiking among inmates and staff, serious questions are being raised about CDCR and San Quentin’s ability to limit the spread of this deadly disease and this preventable crisis.”


“The need to protect the lives of inmates and staff at San Quentin can no longer be dismissed,” continued Levine. “It is time for Governor Newsom to direct CDCR leadership to appoint an epidemiologist to direct and contain the spread of COVID-19 at San Quentin. Dangerous and potentially deadly errors have been made by CDCR and San Quentin leadership who have shown themselves unable to contain this outbreak. Establishing an incident command at San Quentin and appointing an epidemiologist with decision making authority to lead infection containment is the only way we can prevent further infections among inmates and staff. These actions will save lives.”


San Quentin State Prison is located in Assemblymember Levine’s district in Marin County.


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